Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

Category: Strategic Thinking (page 1 of 13)

Have You Identified the Milestones that Lead to Your Preferred Future?

milestoneDo you have a clearly defined preferred future but still struggle to know whether you are moving in the right direction or will ever arrive? If so, it may be that you’ve missed an essential step in the process. What step? Developing milestones that lead to your preferred future (and indicate you are moving in the right direction).

What is a milestone? Webster defines a milestone as “a stone by the side of a road that shows the distance in miles to a specified place.” A modern understanding of milestone is “an important point in the progress or development of something : a very important event or advance.” For our purposes, a milestone is an attainable step that points to the preferred future. See also, Are We There Yet? Milestones that Lead to the Preferred Future.

The identification of milestones is an essential step in the strategy of arriving or progressing toward a preferred future. Milestones also play an important role in the strategy of developing “next steps for everyone and first steps for their friends.”

Here are some examples of milestones:

  • By December of 2016, we will have 100 small groups, and 70 percent of them will have an apprentice.
  • By June of 2016, we will have 10 test-drive “coaches” and every new group will be assigned a coach.
  • By Easter of 2016, we will implement a “first step out of the auditorium that is easy, obvious and strategic.”
  • By September of 2016, we will identify a single best next step for everyone (core, committed, congregation and crowd) and a first step for their friends (community).

Have a question?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Peter Reed

“We Talk about Connecting Beyond 100%…but It’s Just Not Us.”

changeVery often, especially right after I post an article like 5 No-Brainer Characteristics of Churches that Actually Connect Beyond 100%, I’ll hear from readers that there church just doesn’t have it in them.

“We talk about connecting beyond 100% in small groups…but it’s just not us.”

Sometimes they’ll write, “As much as I’d like to be that kind of church, it’s just not in our DNA (or culture, or wiring, or you fill in the blank).”

Can I tell you what I tell them?

I believe it’s actually not true. I believe that just a like a person can change, so can a church. It won’t be easy. It won’t happen overnight. But it can happen.

My Personal Change Story

I lost 30 lbs over the last year. I had gained the weight over the two years we were in Chicago (great food, great friends, long winters). I decided it was time to get rid of the weight and made changes.

Here’s my plan: Eat healthier. Eat less. Walk more. Start running.

Can a Church Change?

I believe a church can change in the same way an individual can change. It won’t happen without a deep desire to change. It will need to be a shared desire. It will take a commitment to a process. A genuine resolve.

But with the right work a church can change.

My Canyon Ridge Change Story

I don’t have the space to tell you much of the story, but I can tell you this. I’ve almost been here four years. I agreed to come in part on the assurance that there was a commitment to have more adults in groups than attended the weekend worship service. There was also an acknowledgement that becoming that kind of church would require change; that continuing to do the same things would not produce different results.

In September of 2015 we took our fourth consecutive shot at a fall church-wide campaign. After each of the previous three attempts we thoroughly evaluated, collected learnings, and made new commitments. And after each of the previous three campaigns we acknowledged we were moving in the right direction but were not there yet.

The key learnings of the three previous campaigns were:

  • The emphasis on the campaign was diluted by competing programs
  • We didn’t start promoting early enough
  • We stopped promoting too soon
  • Our senior pastor didn’t seem fully engaged
  • We weren’t fully leveraging the weekend service

We learned from each attempt. And we did move forward, but not enough to break through.

This year? We had dramatically different results by finally embracing the things that needed to be done.

We’re not there yet. We are on the way. We’re different than we were. And we still have a long way to go. But…we are changing. And you can too.

By the way, I work with a few churches every year who want to change. If you want to find out how it works, just email me for more information.

Image by B Gilmour


5 Secrets of Building Ministry Momentum

momentumMomentum. Few of us have it. All of us want it.

How do you generate momentum? And how do you build and sustain momentum once you have it?

I believe there are some secrets to building momentum. I also believe that none of these secrets are easy to do. If they were, everyone would have momentum.

And yet…these secrets are not impossible to master. They are a challenge. But not because they are difficult. They are a challenge because they require keener insight and greater courage and discipline than most of us ordinarily have.

With insight, courage and discipline mastering these secrets is quite obvious and imminently doable.

Here are 5 secrets of building ministry momentum

  1. Identify one experience that everyone needs. This is where keen insight is required. I often say that you’ve chosen the right church-wide campaign when you can legitimately say, “We’ll still be talking about what happened in the fall of 2015 ten years from now.” If you can’t say that about the campaign you’re considering…you’ve probably not identified the one experience that everyone needs. Another line I often use is that “you don’t want to get to November and wish you had been part of a group that is using the study.” Can you see how these two statements might form a test for whether you’ve chosen the right campaign? See also, How to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign.
  2. Choose the optimum window to offer the experience. This secret requires both insight and courage. In my experience, while the source of momentum may be somewhat of a mystery, the reasons for a lack of momentum are abundantly clear. There is a right window to offer every experience. You know what it is. I know what it is. When the right season is interrupted by an event or program that could (and should) be held some other time…that other event or program needs to be relocated. And that takes both insight and courage. See also, When Is the Best Time to Launch a Church-Wide Campaign.
  3. Narrow your focus to the experience you’ve chosen. This is an enormously important secret. If you want to build momentum, eliminating all other competing events and programs is essential. I know, eliminating is a very strong word. The key really is this. If you want to create momentum you need to put a laser focus on the experience you have already declared is the one experience that everyone needs. This is not the time to promote everything equally. This is the time to focus the spotlight on the one thing you’ve chosen. See also, 10 Principles for Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry.
  4. Make the offer irresistible. Everything matters. The way you talk about the experience in your weekend service (announcements). The way your senior pastor refers to it in the sermon. The insert in the bulletin. The website. The church-wide email. The newsletter. Everything must ring true and ring loudly. Make it affordable (free if you can). Provide incentives for everyone who invites a friend (make it even more affordable). Ask everyone to consider donating a little extra so the resources can be free to everyone who cannot afford to participate. Everything you are doing must feel like a can’t afford to miss this opportunity. See also, Budgeting for the Preferred Future.
  5. Make the first step obvious and easy. This secret may feel like a no-brainer. But trust me…so many of us are NOT doing this. The first step MUST be totally obvious. Sign-up? You shouldn’t have to figure it out. You shouldn’t have to hope. Or wonder. How you sign-up should be TOTALLY obvious. Where you sign-up should be TOTALLY obvious. And it should be EASY. If you have to be psychic (I usually say Carnac the Magnificent) to figure out how to sign up…it is not easy. See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps Out of Your Auditorium?

Image by Evelyn Berg

How Do You Measure Up to the 5 Intangibles of Leadership?

bill hybelsIn the days and weeks following the Global Leadership Summit it’s pretty common for me to work my way back through my notes and begin reading the books I bought.

This morning I spent some time thinking about Bill Hybels’ talk. He set up his talk by pointing out that “we define leadership as moving people from here to there.” He said, “leadership is not about presiding over something, protecting a position or pontificating about how smart you are. Leadership is about movement.”

He went on to identify the 5 intangibles of leadership.

Based on a book by Ed Davis, here are the intangibles identified by Hybels:

  1. Grit: “Grit is passion and perseverance over the long haul.” “Grit can be developed, but its archenemy is ease.”  “We must assign ourselves difficult tasks to grow grit.  Gritty organizations are unstoppable.”
  2. Self-awareness: Statistics show that every leader has 3.4 blindspots. A blindspot is something someone believes they do well, but everyone else knows they do not. Who can help you become aware of your own blindspots? Your direct supervisor and everyone who works with you.
  3. Resourcefulness: Hybels pointed out that organizations that grow resourcefulness among their senior leadership teams grow 25% more than their competitors. Resourceful people are quick learners, endlessly curious, enthusiastic experimenters and collaborators.
  4. Self-sacrificing love: “Self-sacrificing love has always been and will always be at the absolute core of leadership.” “The quality of your own loving will set the tone for your whole organization.”
  5. Sense of meaning: Hybels referred to Simon Sinek’s TED talk and book Start with Why and stated that it is “absolutely essential to know and be driven by your ‘white hot why.'”

As I re-read my notes today and attempt to evaluate my own leadership I’m realizing again that I have a lot of work to do. I’m asking questions like:

  • Do I have grit? How can I grow in my own grittiness? How can I lead my team to grow in grit?
  • Am I self-aware? What are my blindspots? Who can provide the feedback I need?
  • Am I resourceful? How can I grow in resourcefulness? How can I help my team grow in resourcefulness?
  • Is self-sacrificing love a characteristic of my own leadership? Or am I really just out for myself?
  • Do I have sense-of-meaning in my leadership? Does my team know what my “white hot why” is?

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

My notes on Hybels’ session are the frantic scribbles of one desperate to glean everything possible from a powerful talk. You can find many more quotes in this post by Brian Dodd and this one at

Find the Gaps in Your Strategy with This Simple Technique

circlesI love Rick Warren’s concentric circles diagram; a classic illustration of the different segments of people who are associated with your church. The concentric circles also provide a visual representation of Saddleback’s crowd-to-core strategy. See also, Crowd-to-Core: An Essential Understanding.

The way I talk about crowd-to-core is that I want to design next steps for every Ridger (crowd, congregation, committed and core) and first steps for their friends (community). And of course, when I draw the circles I don’t draw them the way they are in the diagram (equally spaced). I draw them as I believe they are at Canyon Ridge (see below). And as I draw the circles I talk about what they represent this way:

  • Outside of this circle is the community. In the 8 zip codes we draw from there are 250,000 people.
  • Inside the circle is the crowd. Based on our Easter numbers and our Christmas Eve numbers, we estimate there are between 10,000 and 12,000 adults who consider Canyon Ridge to be their church. They don’t come every week and they may only attend a few times a year.
  • Inside the crowd is the congregation (when I draw this circle I try to accurately represent the size, 2500 to 3500 adults). These people attend more frequently, 2 to 3 times a month. They are usually connected in some way (i.e., they may be in a small group, on a serving team, etc.). They give on a regular basis, but it is probably not a tithe.
  • Inside the congregation is the committed. They attend 3 to 4 times a month. They definitely serve and often are leaders of groups, teams, or ministries. They tithe. There are hundreds of these people.
  • And finally, inside the committed is the core. They don’t miss a week and are believers of “attend one, serve one.” They give sacrificially. They serve sacrificially. There are less than 300 of these people.

canyon ridge circlesSee how I use the diagram to segment the basic kinds of people who attend?

Here’s how you can use it to illustrate the gaps in your strategy. In my own diagram here, I’ve focused on our men’s ministry and three of their events.

  1. Take an honest look at each of the existing ministries, programs, classes and events and determine which segment of the church are they really designed for. Honesty is essential. You get no where with this is you turn a blind eye to what’s really going. Brutal honesty is required.
  2. Try to overlay them on the concentric circles to illustrate who you believe each menu item exists for.
  3. In order to truly have next steps for everyone and first steps for their friends, there will be no gaps. When you identify gaps you need to create the steps that are missing (that will help everyone take a step). See also, How to Design Next Steps and First Steps.


  • Insiders have great difficulty recognizing that the programs they love don’t work for everyone.
  • Leaders of existing programs often see the world through rose colored glasses and don’t understand why everyone doesn’t come.
  • Most people need to be coached to see the wisdom that just like restaurants have a target customer, so do good programs, events, ministries, and classes.

See also:

What Do You Need to Abandon?

abandonedThis program has meant so much for so long to all these people! How can you even think of getting rid of the program that helped all of us start following Jesus? Old Mrs. Jones would roll over in her grave if she knew that the class named after her was being cancelled!

Who hasn’t had this “discussion” (read argument)?

The prerequisite to successful pursuit of the new and highly promising

Peter Drucker wrote that “planned, purposeful abandonment of the old and of the unrewarding is a prerequisite to successful pursuit of the new and highly promising.  Above all, abandonment is the key to innovation—both because it frees the necessary resources and because it stimulates the search for the new that will replace the old (Managing for Results, p. 143).”

Of course, Peter Drucker wasn’t writing about a church. He was writing about business, right? Actually, Drucker often focused his attention on non-profits and personally mentored both Rick Warren and Bill Hybels.

Corporations, both for-profit and non-profits, struggle with the difficult task of putting an end to programs that were successful in the past; with things that were once the bread-winner and now are mostly a resource drain.

Still, the truth is most businesses, most non-profits struggle to do what they know they should do…and a few make hard but necessary decisions and then reap the benefit.

INTEL actually provides one of the most dramatic examples of a company that abandoned a successful product in order to make resources available for the product that would carry them into the future. Beginning to see the handwriting on the wall of the memory chip business, Andy Grove and Gordon Moore knew they must move to microprocessors. Finally, they reasoned, “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

The question today is, “What do you need to abandon?” See also, Andy Stanley: Random Thoughts on Leadership.

Image by freaktography


Insights That Sharpen Small Group Ministry Perspective

1911519592_90f62ac01f_zHave you noticed that reading more books (and blogs) sometimes increases confusion and indecision about the best way to do small group ministry? Add the input from conferences you attend and experts you listen to and you can end up with a pretty complex soup.

What should you do? It’s good to read, right? Leaders are learners, right?

Short answer: Yes, it’s good to read and it’s good to attend conferences and listen to experts. I’m right there with you.

Slightly longer answer: Computer theorist Alan Kay pointed out that “Point of view (or perspective) is worth 80 IQ points.” While it’s good to read, attend conferences and listen to experts, developing the filter of a point of view (or perspective)–through which to absorb new content–provides more clarity and less confusion.

Insights that sharpen point of view (or perspective):

Start with why. Building a small group ministry (or choosing a model, system or strategy) without clarity about the why behind your effort is a recipe for wandering in the wilderness. Did you begin with why? Is it still clear? Was it ever? Simon Sinek notes that “All organizations start with why, but only the great ones keep their why clear year after year.”

Start with why. This is a truly foundational insight. If you’ve never watched Simon Sinek’s brilliant TED talk on this idea, stop what you’re doing and watch it right now. See also, Wrestling with “Why” We Do “What” We Do and 6 Questions We Should All Be Asking.

Determine the what that must be done. Only after identifying why you care enough to do anything about it can you begin to think about what it is that actually must be done. Can you see that it would be foolish to have chosen a small group model, system or strategy before determining what must be done?

Decide how to do what must be done. This is about determining the best way to do what must be done. You are finally in a position to make a wise choice about a model, system or strategy).

I love an Andy Stanley line on this that make so much sense. “Don’t fall in love with a model. Fall in love with the mission and date the model.” When you are clear on the why (and the what) it is easy to choose the how (the model) that is the best way to do what must be done. See also, How to Choose a Small Group System, Model or Strategy.

Image by Al HikesAZ

Small Group Ministry Case Study: Choosing Your Customer

customerIf it’s true that your ministry (or program) is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing, then the design of your ministry is almost everything.

There are several key components of ministry design. According to Peter Drucker, three main components are:

A significant aspect of my work with churches and ministries is to help them choose their customer. A key component of design is the intentional selection of a customer. Many start out believing that their ministry or program really can meet the needs of everyone. This is a theology of wishful thinking. The truth is that a common ingredient of failed ministry design is the illusion of being all things to all people.

This is a very bad strategy.

Far better to focus on choosing your customer.

Here’s what I mean.

Designing for a Specific Customer: A Case Study

Outback Steakhouse, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine BarCarrabba’s Italian Grill, and Bonefish Grill are all owned and operated by Bloomin’ Brands Inc.  P.F. Changs China Bistro and Pei Wei Asian Diner  are owned by Centerbridge Partners.

Think about the restaurants in these two parent companies. Why would Bloomin’ Brands own both Fleming’s and Outback? Why would Centerbridge Partners own both P.F. Changs and Pei Wei?  If you’ve been to these restaurants you probably shouted back an answer just now.  It’s obvious, isn’t it?  Each restaurant pair is designed to appeal to a different customer. The Fleming’s diner anticipates spending in the neighborhood of $100 per person. The Outback customer will spend closer to $30 per person.  Does Fleming’s feel bad when someone chooses Outback over them?  What do you think?

Why would Centerbridge Partners own both P.F. Changs and Pei Wei?  Same basic idea.  Eat at Changs and plan to spend about $50 per person. Eat at Pei Wei and spend closer to $25.  Does Pei Wei feel bad when they don’t attract a Changs customer? What do you think?


When you design your ministry, think carefully about the customer you most want to reach. Design the ministry for them. Don’t feel bad when you can’t be all things to all people. Instead, design a different step for the people that haven’t yet been reached.

Image by Didriks 

Hoping for Problem-Free

hopeWhat are the decisions you know you need to make but you just can’t bring yourself to do it?  Do you know the list by heart?  Is it a long list?  What’s keeping you from pulling the trigger?  Still searching for a problem-free solution?

I’ve made the case for a long time now that the pursuit of problem-free delays more ministry than anything else.  That the belief that there might be a problem-free solution–just around the corner–causes more boards, more teams, and more leaders to push the pause button that anything else.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem-Free.

I’m coming to believe there might be another explanation.  What is it?  There is certainly a temptation to hope that the issue will just resolve itself some other way.  That’s not what I’m thinking about.

I’m actually more and more convinced that we don’t make the decisions that we need to make because we lack the courage we need to make them. At times we try to disguise our lack of courage with the garb of caring for people and not wanting to disappoint. Other times we attempt to disguise our lack of courage by asking for a pause in decisions as we “seek wisdom.”

I believe that hoping for problem-free is an emotional state that must be overcome in order to truly build anything significant.

Sometimes we finally overcome it when we learn to say the last 10 percent (Several years ago Bill Hybels shared the idea that we often say only 90 percent of what needs to be said and withhold the final 10 percent because that’s where the tough stuff and the true gold resides).

And sometimes we finally overcome this emotional state when we acknowledge the reality that the pursuit of problem-free is putting off a solution that will eliminate obstacles for unreached or unconnected people.

Are you free? Or are you still hoping for problem-free?

Image by Trina Alexander

Do You Know What Business You Are Really In?

FactoryPeter Drucker was known for asking great questions.  I love his line that “the important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question.  For there are few things as useless–if not dangerous–as the right answer to the wrong question (The Practice of Management).”

“What business are you in?” is one of my favorite Drucker questions.  Reflecting about the power of this both simple and profound question, Drucker wrote, “That the question is so rarely asked—at least in a clear and sharp form—and so rarely given adequate study and thought, is perhaps the most important single cause of business failure.”

Clearly, Drucker believed that knowing what business you are in is very important.  Do you?  Have you ever sat down and puzzled through a defining statement about the business you are in?  I’ve written about this many times.  I’ve even posted a few examples.  But I’m wondering if you’ve ever figured out for yourself, for your own ministry, what business you are in?

You may believe you are in the connecting business and all you are doing or the main thing you are doing is connecting people.  Or you may believe you are in the disciple-making business.  Alternatively, you might have decided you are in the life-change business or the transformation business.

Doing the hard work of figuring out the answer to the question is critical but only rarely done.  And that’s unfortunate because until you find this answer you can’t answer the next question.  What’s the next question?  “How’s business?”  See also, If I Was Starting Today, The First Question Every Small Group Pastor Must Answer and Clue #4 When Designing Your Small Group System.

Image by Daniel Foster

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