If I Was Starting Today…Part 4

If I Was Starting Today…Part 4

(This is part 4 of a 7 part series.  You can read part 1 right here)

If I knew then what I know now…I’d work harder to develop a sequence of spiritual next steps and I’d narrow our focus to include only the steps that actually lead to where we want people to go. See also, Crowd-to-Core: An Essential Understanding at the Heart of My Strategy.

“Narrowing the focus” and “thinking steps, not programs” are concepts that come from 7 Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley and Reggie Joiner. What’s the core concept? Rather than developing (or buying off-the-shelf) programs that will draw a crowd, we need to design steps that lead to where we want our people to go and then we need to eliminate the options that don’t lead cleanly to there.

How does that apply to the business we’re all in? Let’s unpack the idea.

Two basic approaches

At the risk of oversimplifying, let’s say that there are two basic approaches to the ministry (or activity) menu:

  1. There’s the cafeteria approach (think long display of options with multiple entrees, sides, breads and desserts). This is your approach if there are multiple options for people to choose from and not all of them are equally designed to take people where you want them to grow.
  2. There’s the streamlined approach (In-n-Out Burger, the entire menu consists of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, and drinks). This is your approach if your menu is simple and choosing what to do next is clear.

Thinking steps means narrowing down the menu to only those choices that move your people in the direction you want them to go.

How does this apply to small group ministry? 

How does this apply to small group ministry?

If you’re offering groups and a few other ways that a person can grow spiritually, it is a complication that many people have difficulty processing.  You might think options bring increased buy-in, but it turns out that options may actually be demotivating.

Need evidence? In a fascinating study by Sheena S. Iyengar and Mark R. Lepper (Choice is Demotivating) it was learned that more is rarely better. Their study examined customer responses to two jam sampling opportunities on two consecutive weekends at a high-end grocery store in Menlo Park, CA. The first weekend featured a stand with 24 selections (extensive choice). The second weekend featured a stand with just 6 selections (limited choice). Of the 242 customers who passed by the sampling stand with 24 choices, 60% stopped while only 40% stopped at the limited choice stand the following weekend. Predictably, the customers seemed to prefer the more extensive choice. Surprisingly, the checkout stand revealed a different story. 30% of the limited choice customers purchased jam while only 3% of the extensive choice customers purchased jam.

What does jam have to do with thinking steps, not programs and narrowing the focus? If you’ve prepared a jam-packed menu that gives too many options you shouldn’t be surprised when your congregation has a hard time choosing what is best.

What would I do if I were in your shoes?

If I were in your shoes I would begin by spending some time evaluating what I call your present. Developing a clear understanding of what is really true about your present conditions is essential. If you want to get to your preferred future, you must first understand where you are.

Next, I’d begin working to narrow the focus to only the steps that lead effectively and efficiently in the direction we want everyone to go (in the direction of the preferred future. See also, What Do You Need to Change about Your Small Group Ministry?

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What Do You Need to Change about Your Small Group Ministry?

What Do You Need to Change about Your Small Group Ministry?

That question is at the essence of the problem for many of us.

What do you need to change about your small group ministry?

When we stop to think about…if we take the time to think about it…all of us  almost always already have a pretty good idea about what needs to change about our small group ministries.

We just can’t bring ourselves to make the change. It’s just easier to pretend that it’s okay. Or more to the point, we can’t bring ourselves to have the first conversation(s) that lead to the change that needs to happen.

Can I give you my prescription? 

Can I give you my prescription for change? Admittedly, there are times that I’m right there with you. That is, I know what needs to change but I’m not ready to do the first thing or two that will lead to change happening.

But, I still know the steps I need to take (and most of the time I take them quickly).

Here’s my prescription:

First, identify the most important conversation(s) that must happen before you can begin to make the change.

Let’s say you realize that in order for your small group ministry to flourish, one or more menu items must be eliminated (or at least positioned differently). That is, instead of promoting three ways an unconnected person can get connected, you’ll now only promote ways to get connected to a new off-campus group.

What are the conversations that must happen before you can make that change? You already know what they are. Right?

The first step is to make a list of the people that need to be informed (or more likely, persuaded).

Second, beginning with the most influential person, make an appointment to have the conversation(s).

Note: I intentionally wrote “conversation(s)” because it will almost always take more than one conversation to effect any change.

Also, I believe it is important to start with the most influential person and in most cases, that is your senior pastor. In order to have confidence for the next conversation(s), you’ll need to have already developed an understanding with the most influential person.

And it may take more than one conversation. It may take several tries to lay out your case and persuade them of the merits of the change you want to make.

And that’s okay. Every step you’re taking is moving you in the direction of the change.

Third, once you’ve developed the support of the most influential person, begin scheduling any other conversations that must happen.

Again, it may take more than one conversation. And frankly, the change you need to make may require developing a sequence of steps that lead in the direction of your preferred future.

For example, while you may need to eliminate one or more menu items, it may be easier (and still productive) to deemphasize them but at least for the time being continue to allow them to happen.

Note: Deemphasizing a menu option may include changing how you promote it, when and where it is offered, the cost to participate, etc.

Fourth, follow through on making the change you’ve identified and discussed.

Amazingly, many of us can actually point to changes that were discussed and even approved that never made it out of the conversation stage.

“Yeah, we’ve had all those conversations at least once, but we’re still offering and promoting all of the menu items as if they are equally important.”

Don’t let that be your story! Once you’ve identified the change that needs to happen and had the conversations that must be had, follow through!

Fifth, monitor (and report) the impact of the change.

Whenever you make a change there will be both upsides and downsides. There will be verbal supporters and detractors. More importantly, there will be lead indicators that point to eventual success (or the absence of lead indicators that may point to the need for further adjustment).

It’s important to carefully monitor the impact of change because the easiest thing to do, and the natural thing to do, is to revert back to the previous pattern.

In Design, Build and Sustain a Thriving Small Group Ministry I point out that the trajectory your small group ministry is currently on was established over a long time and is a deeply ingrained. Changing your trajectory requires intentionality, determination and persistence.

See also, Design, Build and Sustain a Thriving Small Group Ministry

Finally, when you arrive at the first milestone, be sure and begin setting up the conversations that will lead to the next change that needs to be made.

The easiest course of action is to quit before you even begin. The next easiest course of action is to quit too soon. Remember, changing your trajectory requires intentionality, determination and persistence!

Further Reading:

Dilbert on Resistance to Change

5 Clues that Point to a Change in Small Group Strategy

5 Ways Your Small Group Ministry Needs to Change…Today

General Eric Shinseki on Change and Irrelevance

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If I Was Starting Today…Part 3

If I Was Starting Today…Part 3

(This is part 3 of a 7 part series.  You can read part 1 right here)

I’ve been at this a while. Maybe you have too! All I know is, with over 25 years of small group ministry experience I’ve learned a thing or two. And guess what? If I knew way back then what I know now, I’d have a different way of looking at a lot of things!

For example, one thing I would definitely look at differently would be the way I defined success.  How so? Well, for starters I wouldn’t call a certain number of groups “success.” And before you even begin to get worked up, I also wouldn’t call a certain number of people in groups, a certain number of apprentice leaders or coaches “success” either. Nope, if I were starting today and knew what I know…I’d definitely define success differently.

What would I call success?

So, what would I call “success”? Easy. And hard work at the same time. I’d spend time thinking about what it is that I want to produce, identify a way of measuring it, and set up a scorecard to keep track. Let’s break those three ideas down.

First, I’d think about what it is that I want to produce.

First, I’d think about what it is that I want to produce. I’d want my product to be men and women who love extravagantly, give generously, and serve selflessly. For me, off the cuff, that’s a pretty good short list. Of course, you can see that every church should really have its own criteria.

Can you see that I’d plug all of these things into the way I’m describing my preferred future? You could do this too!

See also, Start with the End in Mind and 5 Keys to Arriving at Your Preferred Future.

Second, I’d identify a way of measuring what I produced.

Second, I’d identify a way of measuring how effectively we’re producing what we’re trying to produce. I’d have to define “extravagantly,” but once I had the definition then I could set up a way to quantify that trait. Not only that, but I’d be able to measure periodically and see movement.

Can you see the things I’m describing are really the lead measures that predict arrival at the preferred future?

See also, Are You Working on the Right Things (to build a thriving small group ministry)? and FAQ: What Should We Be Measuring (to build a thriving small group ministry)?

Third, I’d set up a scorecard

Third, I’d set up a scorecard to keep track of progress. With carefully identified lead measures, it would not be difficult to track on a scorecard.

Need some examples? How about tracking group members who served in a set of out-of-the-norm opportunities (homeless shelters, foster services, after-school mentoring, etc.) or gave generously (to a special cause or above and beyond last quarter’s donations).

Fourth, if I did set up a scorecard

Fourth, if I did set up a scorecard, I could even adjust my weekend teaching calendar and small group curriculum to work on areas or that need to be developed.

Can you see how adjusting the weekend teaching calendar and small group curriculum could help move small group members in the right direction?

Why would I do this differently?

Why would I do this differently? Easy. Measuring the number of groups, people in groups, apprentices, or coaches doesn’t actually tell me whether I’ve created the optimum environment for life-change to happen. Much as I like knowing whether I’m adding groups and connecting a higher percentage of my congregation, that’s nothing more than increasing the size of my delivery system. At the end of the day, the delivery system itself has to deliver the right things. That’s what I want to measure. And that’s what will determine what I call “success.”

This is part 3 of a 7 part series. You can read part 4 right here.

Further Reading:

Start with the End in Mind

5 Keys to Arriving at Your Preferred Future

Are You Working on the Right Things (to build a thriving small group ministry)?

FAQ: What Should We Be Measuring (to build a thriving small group ministry)?

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If I Was Starting Today…Part 2

(This is part 2 of a 7 part series. If you missed part 1, you can read it right here)

If I knew then what I know now…I would have worked harder to be crystal clear on who my real customer was and designed my strategy to fit them. I realize that to some of us that seems so obvious…but let me unpack the idea before you hit delete.

Peter Drucker, famous for asking great questions, pushed organizations to  ask themselves a few core questions. The first question was “What business are we in?” That was #1 in this series of posts. The second question he would push all of us to ask is, “Who is our customer?” But before we go any further, lets work on the word “customer.”

Classic Understanding of “Customer”

If we managed a restaurant or a grocery store we’d see this right away, but it might pay off to dig around the idea a little bit. If we thought about it we would quickly acknowledge that everyone who shops at our store or eats at our restaurant are our customers. We would be watching them carefully, trying to really understand their needs and interests, in order to keep them eating or shopping with us.

Clear so far? We would understand the word customer to mean the people already using our services or buying our products. At the same time we’d have hopes of expanding our customer base, attracting more customers, winning them over to shop or eat with us. We might understand the group going into the restaurant across the street as prospective customers…but we’d put most of our energy into catering to the group that already shops or eats with us. (Is this thinking starting to scare you?)

The Real Customer

When I use the term, “The real customer,” I’m talking about the people in the crowd who aren’t yet part of a small group. I believe understanding the crowd is the key to helping the unconnected people in your crowd get connected. Paying attention to their challenges, interests, concerns and hopes will help you design a strategy that will inspire them to put a toe in the water.

What Is the Problem?

That seems so easy! Why aren’t we doing that already? Because we’re focusing on the challenges, interests, concerns and hopes of the people who are already deep on the inside…and that is a problem. Why? Because they’re different than the people in the crowd. Maybe only slightly, but they are different. If you want to help the people in the crowd move into community you will have to understand them and then design your approach to appeal to them.

Why is that a problem? Thinking like the group just outside the congregation (the crowd) is a little bit of a stretch sometimes. After all, the longer we’ve been in ministry, even the longer we’ve been a Christ-follower, the harder it gets to think like someone just outside and design our approach to appeal to them.

What Is the Solution?

Spend some of your energy getting to know the people in the crowd. You know some of them already. Some you only know by face…not by name. Getting to know them, reaching out to learn more about them, will help you see how to help them connect. I’ve found it helpful to simply ask myself if I could invite them to my small group? Would they like what we’re doing? Would it meet a need they are aware of? Would it help them with a challenge they know they have?

What Is the Bigger Problem?

Of course, this whole discussion leads to a different, bigger problem. How do I help my current customers begin to see themselves as team members who are empowered to help new customers connect? That is a discussion for a later post! In the meantime…take some time to get to know the people in the crowd. Think about them as you’re designing your connection strategy. They’re the real customer.

This is part 2 of a 7 part series. You can read part 3 right here.

Further Reading

Do You Really Understand Your Customer?

Small Group Ministry Case Study: Choosing Your Customer

Which Customer Is Your Ministry Designed to Connect?

Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?

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Organizational Culture: Must-Read and Listen Resources

Organizational Culture: Must-Read and Listen Resources

You may consider the subject of organizational culture above your pay grade or a field of expertise that you don’t need or that has little to do with building a thriving small group ministry. If that’s you…I’m sorry, but I must beg you to reconsider.

Instead, I believe it is essential learning if you’re building a thriving small group ministry.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Peter Drucker

Noted organizational consultant and author, Peter Drucker pointed out that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” I submit that a ministry with an unhealthy culture cannot become anything significant. Therefore, the leaders of ministries who fail to become students of culture do so at the peril of their organizations.

Leaders of ministries who fail to become students of culture do so at the peril of their… Click To Tweet

On that note, here is a set of podcasts, articles and books that will help you take your understanding of organizational culture to a new level:

Andy Stanley on Organizational Culture

Make It Better

Defining Your Organizational Culture – Part 1

Defining Your Organizational Culture – Part 2

Craig Groeschel on Creating a Values-Driven Culture

Craig Groeschel on Creating a Values-Driven Culture – Part 1

Craig Groeschel on Creating a Values-Driven Culture – Part 2

The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace by S. Chris Edmonds. I’m 50 pages into this one and it’s already proving to be rich in ideas and  insights.

Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT by Paul Marciano. One of the highest rated books I could find on the topic.

Ministry in a Fog? 6 Critical Questions that Create Clarity in Organizations. My takeaway from Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.

How Do You Change Organizational Culture by Michael Hyatt. This is Michael’s backstage interview with Patrick Lencioni.

21 Signs Your Church Staff Has Toxic Team Culture by Nicole Cochran of the Vanderbloemen Search Group.

The Most Recent Things I’ve Learned…AGAIN

The Most Recent Things I’ve Learned…AGAIN

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Whether this famous one-liner was first said by Winston Churchill, Edmond Burke or George Santayana may be up for debate, but the truth of the statement isn’t.

One of the most important things we can do is learn everything we can from what just happened.

When we take the time to carefully scrutinize the event or program just concluded, including the process of conception and development, the sequence of promotion that led up to it, and the follow-up elements and next steps that flowed from it…we win every time.

When we pull out our learnings from previous efforts and use them to better prepare for the next time, our event or program is much more likely to succeed (provided we didn’t learn that the event or program shouldn’t be done again).

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Winston Churchill Click To Tweet

How to evaluate an event or program

The best way I’ve discovered to evaluate an event or program (from top to bottom and beginning to end) is a tool created by Tom Paterson, the legendary business consultant. Today, Paterson’s strategic thinking and the process he developed are used everyday, around the world to help organizations get better.*

One of the tools Paterson developed is referred to as The 4 Helpful Lists. The essence of the exercise is to have a robust conversation about the following four aspects of an event or program (or ministry):

  • What’s right? The aspects that were right are captured on a long list. This list is often the easiest to develop.
  • What’s wrong? The aspects that were wrong are also captured on a list. Participants in the discussion are often reluctant to call out the things that didn’t work, but with encouragement will come around and contribute.
  • What’s confused? Taking the time to develop this list will pay big dividends. Calling out the aspects that weren’t clear or were hard to understand or respond to will help you evaluate one of the most important pieces of any ministry program.
  • What’s missing? Once your conversation gets going, you’ll begin to remember that certain aspects were missing. Capturing them on a list will help you think about improving what you are doing.

You can probably already see that distinguishing between what was wrong, confused or missing requires discernment. That there might be some aspects that would be initially placed on the “wrong” list but are later discerned to belong on the missing or confused list.

The fruit of the discussion is a detailed evaluation that can lead to a better next step, provided lessons were learned and remembered. The things that were right can be optimized. The things that were wrong can be fixed. The things that were confused can be clarified. And the things that were missing can be added.

Remember, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

*I am a licensed StratOp facilitator with Intentional Churches and would love to talk with you about how the process can be used at your church to double your kingdom impact again and again. Email Me to find out more about it.

How to Reach Milestones (on the way to your preferred future)

How to Reach Milestones (on the way to your preferred future)

In today’s post I want to explain a process that I think will help all of you. Since all of us are attempting to build a thriving small group ministry, one of the things we must learn is how to identify the preferred future we’re aiming for and how to chart a course that will arrive there.

First, the backstory:

Before I can explain the process, I need to give you a little context. I need to explain the backstory that led me here.

Helping churches build thriving small group ministries is my passion. Helping small group ministries get to there is what it’s all about for me.

To help churches understand getting to there, I embraced the language of business consultant, educator and author Peter Drucker and have long been asking, “What business are you in?” “Who is your customer?” and “What will you call ‘success’?”

In 2005 I read Andy Stanley’s Seven Practices of Effective Ministry and was introduced to the idea of clarifying the win (read: clarifying what you will call success).

But it was a combination of Will Mancini’s Church Unique Glen Hiemstra’s Turning the Future into Revenue that alerted me to the importance of truly identifying the preferred future (mountaintop for Mancini) and the identifying the milestones that lead to there. See also, Start with the End in Mind.

And that led me directly to the concept I want to share with you here.

Projects, Objectives, Deliverables, and Action Steps

Think of building a thriving small group ministry as the project. It isn’t something you do in a single move. It’s something that happens over seasons and years.

As you’re building you’re steadily moving toward the preferred future you’ve identified. Two steps forward and one step back. Three steps forward and two steps back. And throw in an occasional loss of ground for realism.

But it happens over seasons and years.

Think of the milestones you identify as leading directly to (and only to) the preferred future you’ve identified. They are your objectives.

As you identify the objectives (milestones) along the way to the mountaintop (preferred future) you’ll pursue them with determination and perseverance. Your first objective may take you 3 to 6 months (or even 9 months to a year).

Example: An example of a milestone might be building the beginnings of an effective coaching structure with  the right men and women doing the right things and for the right number of group leaders. See also, Have You Identified the Milestones that Lead to Your Preferred Future?

Reaching each of the milestones you’ve identified will require certain deliverables being delivered. Deliverables are the things or outcomes that must be developed in order to reach the objective.

Example: An example of a deliverable might to recruit enough coaches to provide a one to five span of care (one coach for every 5 leaders).

A set of action steps are required to produce the deliverables (required to reach the objective.

Example: Examples of the action steps required in this case might be  an understanding of the characteristics of an effective coach, a job description for coaches, a recruiting protocol, and a script.

How to use the process:

After you’ve identified the preferred future you see for your small group ministry, the next step is to identify the first milestone (objective) that you need to reach. Think of a milestone as a spot along the path that you can reach within the next 3 to 6 months. While the first milestone can be farther down the road, I’ve found it helpful to make the first objective a quicker win.

Once you identify the objective, give some thought to, and then begin identifying the deliverables that will make arrival at the milestone possible.

And once you identify the deliverables, brainstorm and whiteboard the action steps required to deliver the deliverables. Make the action steps bite sized.

Once you have the action steps, it’s time to begin chipping away at them, completing them sequentially, so you can deliver the first of several deliverables.

Need help?

Need help? I reserve time every year to work with a select group of churches ready to build a thriving small group ministry.  Email me to find out more.

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Have you spent much time thinking about your philosophy of ministry? Your own philosophy of ministry (whether you’ve ever written it down or verbalized it) is actually the foundation for many of the decisions you make.

Why do you choose the strategies you choose? Why do you look for the kinds of leaders you look for? Why do you struggle making certain decisions?

I’ve been thinking about the key ideas and concepts that have shaped my philosophy of ministry.  I’m not talking theology.  That said, in no particular order, here are what I think are the ten biggest rocks:

  1. Crowd to Core: Rick Warren’s relatively simple metaphor expresses a profound ministry concept.  Instead of pouring everything into the most committed members with the expectation that they will then go out (core to crowd), crowd to core focuses on building next steps that will help the crowd move toward Christ.  See also Next Steps for Everyone…and First Steps for Their Friends.
  2. There is no problem free.  If you’ve ever joined me on a webinar or read very many of my articles, you’ll immediately recognize this phrase. When choosing between two strategies, wise leaders understand that there is no problem free solution, identify the problem set for each and simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also The Pursuit of Problem Free
  3. “Path, not intent, determines destination.”  This Andy Stanley line says it all about the importance of creating steps that are easy, obvious and strategic. It does not matter where you intend to go (or where you intend or hope your people end up), if you aren’t on the path that actually goes there, you may be moving very fast in the wrong direction. See also Arriving at the Preferred Future.
  4. “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”  Another Andy Stanley line that succinctly illustrates a stunning reality.  Design determines results.  We can’t blame it on a fluke.  There is an indisputable relationship between the design and the outcome.  See also An Openness to New Ideas
  5. “What business are you in?”  “Who is your customer?” “What will you call success?”  What I often refer to as the Drucker questions play a very big part in my ministry.  If you don’t have answers for them, if you’ve not invested time in them, it is unlikely that you are moving in the right direction.  See also The First Question Every Small Group Pastor Must Answer and The Second Question Every Small Group Pastor Must Answer.
  6. “The optimal environment for life-change is a small group.”  Life-change happens most frequently as a result of life-on-life interaction. A small group system provides a strategy that scales for the size of the congregation, crowd and community. See also Essential Ingredients for Life-Change.
  7. “Everyone needs to be cared for by someone but no one can take of more than (about) ten.” Carl George’s interpretation of Exodus 18 plays a big part in my understanding of the need for and the potential of a coaching structure.  See also The One Thing Every Small Group Pastor Must Do for Small Group Leaders.
  8. “Leaders allocate the finite resources of the organization to the critical growth path.” Again, no one says it like Carl George. This one liner defines the leader’s role in choosing where to invest time, talent, and treasure. See also Budgeting for the Preferred Future.
  9. Unconnected people are one tough thing away from never being at your church again. This idea shapes my priorities in many ways. Once we realize we have a closing window on connecting unconnected people, we ought to be doing as much as we can to prioritize making it easier to connect. See also What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People.
  10. The most connected people inside your congregation are the least connected to the crowd and community. The reciprocal is also true. The least connected people inside your congregation are the most connected to the crowd and community. This understanding shapes many of my outreach oriented ministry plans. Focus on leveraging the strong ties of the least connected in your “crowd” to reach the “community.” See also, Exponential Outreach.

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

Further Reading:

Your Philosophy of Ministry and Decision-Making

Philosophy of Ministry: Off-Campus Groups vs. On-Campus Classes

Have You Made These 3 Game-Changing Observations about Small Group Ministry?

My Top Small Group Ministry Learnings 2016 – 2017

I like to think of myself as a learner. On the StrengthsFinder tool I am also futuristic with a twist of ideation. I’ve been called a mad scientist (and it’s one of my favorite tags). At one stop I almost convinced my boss that my new title should be The Destructor of the Status Quo.

Here’s my list of top learnings from the 2016-17 ministry year:

  1. The best time to connect a new leader with a coach is at the very beginning. And I mean the VERY beginning. When a new leader is chosen at one of our Life Group Connections, they are introduced to their coach in the stand-up meeting that follows the connection. See also, Skill Training: The Best Way to Connect a New Leader with a Coach.
  2. We don’t yet know how to sustain a high percentage of “host” groups. By “host” groups I mean the groups that we launch by inviting people to “do the study with a couple friends.” We’ve regularly launched hundreds of new “host” groups in conjunction with our fall church-wide campaigns and always sustain some of them into a follow-up study. We’ve tried coaching them with a weekly  email and invited them to our host rally…but clearly have room for improvement. See also, Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.
  3. Language matters. This is more of reminder. Whether you’re inviting people to consider “doing the study with a couple friends” or challenging them to join a six-week Life Group where they can get everything possible out of the message series,” language matters. Every word matters and results are quantifiable. See also, 5 Tiny Language Tweaks that Make a Very Big Difference.
  4. We need to do a better job of identifying the lead measures that predict discipleship outcomes. We are clear on the relationship between design and results. We have a good understanding of the lead measures that result in toes-in-water, we’ve only partially identified the steps that lead to better disciples. See also, FAQ: What Should We Be Measuring (to build a thriving small group ministry)?
  5. We need to codify the things that must be done to and for leaders. What some on our team do intuitively must be defined in a way that can be learned and is transferable. Translation: Everything must scale. See also, 7 Things You Must Do TO and FOR Your Small Group Leaders.
  6. Building an effective coaching structure doesn’t make caring for leaders easier. Adding a layer of high capacity leaders who do to and for leaders what you want leaders to do to and for members creates a challenging environment that requires greater attention to personal discipleship. The outcome of an effective coaching structure is greater capacity to make better disciples, but intensifies the effort required from top to bottom. See also, Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciple Leaders.
  7. Transitioning from silos to full alignment is a never ending process. Aligning affinities (couples, singles, men and women) is step one and easier to understand and compel. The payoff of aligning broadly (missions, next generation, evangelism and worship) is temporary and quickly forgotten. Enduring alignment is conversation intensive, painstaking, and never ending. See also, Insight: Repositioning Affinity Ministries Helps Create Alignment.
  8. Adding a multi-site philosophy is a beast unto itself. Like the alignment transition, developing and supervising is a daily endeavor. It is conversation intensive, painstaking, and never ending.

Could Our Lack of Empathy Be Limiting Our Ministry Impact?

Could Our Lack of Empathy Be Limiting Our Ministry Impact?

Empathy: em-pə-thē, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another”

Important Note: Don’t skip this post because it doesn’t seem immediately applicable to what you do.

I’m not sure when I first began to suspect the importance of empathy in ministry, but I can tell you exactly when I learned what empathy meant and how it applied to reaching people no one else was reaching.


I was working my way through The Ten Faces of Innovation by IDEO’s Tom Kelley and in a section on The Anthropologist (one of the ten faces), I learned that:

Anthropologists share such distinguishing characteristics as the wisdom to observe with a truly open mind; empathy; intuition; the ability to “see” things that have gone unnoticed; a tendency to keep running lists of innovative concepts worth emulating and problems that need solving; and a way of seeking inspiration in unusual places.”

The section went on to describe how IDEO, one of the leading design companies in the world, leverages empathy to truly understand the customer, designing products that satisfy the customer’s often unexpressed needs.

I can remember thinking, “This applies directly to ministry!”

I can remember reading Matthew in that same time period and coming across this line:

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36 NIV

My immediate thought was Jesus had empathy for the people in the crowds. He truly understood the feelings of the people in the crowds.

My next thought was if I want to reach people no one else is reaching, I need to understand their needs like Jesus did (truthfully, I didn’t think it that way because Craig Groeschel hadn’t said it that way yet).


A few years later, while reading Creative Confidence (another great book by David and Tom Kelley), I came across this line on the subject of learning to empathize with the end user:

“empathy means challenging your preconceived ideas and setting aside your sense of what you think is true to learn what actually is true.”

You know what I thought? How often do we look at the crowds and instead of having compassion on them (because we have deep and genuine empathy for them), we feel frustration and discouragement because they aren’t responding to what we’ve created for them.

Instead of learning what is actually true about them we’ve held on to our sense of what we think is true.

How does this apply to us?

When we’re designing anything, from first steps out of the community to next steps into a small group, we need to ask ourselves “will this meet a need people actually have or just the need we think they have?”

The true test of our design? Results. See also, An Openness to New Ideas.

Further Reading:

Set Aside What You Think Is True to Learn What Is Actually True

Here’s a Lesson in Empathy

Do You Really Understand Your Customer?

4 Obsessions of the Extraordinary Small Group Pastor

Image by Jan Truter