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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

Are You Playing to Play? Or Playing to Win?

Los Angeles Memorial ColiseumAre you playing to play? Or playing to win?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about clarifying the win in the various ministries and steps at Canyon Ridge.  We always want to identify what we will call a win before we schedule anything.  Actually, before we calendar anything we want to know what you will  call a win and what are the embedded steps that lead to where we want people to go next.  See also, How to Design First Steps and Next Steps.

What will you call a win?  Peter Drucker framed it slightly different when he asked, “What will you call success?”  Same idea.  See also, 10 Principles for Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry and 5 Non-Negotiables that Define True Small Group Ministry Success.

I’ve been spending some time again with Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin (the former Chairman and CEO of Proctor & Gamble and the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto).  This book is packed with great insights and the application is practically dripping off the pages.

I love the distinction made between playing to play (or participate) and playing to win.  Lafley and Martin point out that:

“When a company sets out to participate, rather than win, it will inevitably fail to make the tough choices and the significant investments that would make winning even a remote possibility.  A too-modest aspiration is far more dangerous than a too-lofty one.  Too many companies eventually die a death of modest aspirations (p. 36).”

Are you playing to play? Or playing to win?

That is a very compelling question, isn’t it?  Since unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again, doesn’t it make sense that you would play to win?  Doesn’t it make sense that you would readily make the tough choices and the significant investments that would make winning likely?

What does it mean if you aren’t?

Image by Brendan Loy

Yes, But What Do I Do First?

pick up sticksYou’re in, right? Ready to do the work that will take your small group ministry to new levels in 2015?  You’ve taken the time to write some new year’s resolutions and are beginning to figure out where you need to go.

But where do you start?  How do you figure out what must happen first?  Or does it matter where you start?

I call your dilemma “joining a game of pick up sticks in progress.”  I call it that because the truth is there really are some things that you must tackle before you can even get down to the issues you want to work on.

I believe in almost every church there are two primary issues that must be tackled at the same time.

First, if you believe that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again, then you are already certain you’ve got to find better and faster ways to connect more people.  Waiting until certain deeper issues are solved or waiting until certain capabilities are developed won’t make sense in light of your awareness that every unconnected person in your crowd has a closing window on their availability to connect.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People and What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?

Believing this is true should prompt you to take seriously the urgency of connecting unconnected people.

It should also convince you to:

Second, if you believe that coaches play a key role in sustaining new groups and furthermore, that whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members of your groups must happen first in the lives of your leaders, then you already know you that identifying, recruiting and developing coaches must be an immediate priority.  See also, Life Change at the Member Level

Believing this is true should prompt you to take seriously the need to identify, recruit and develop coaches.

Aren’t there other important things that must be done to build a thriving small group ministry?  Yes!  But without a doubt these are the two most important things and they will not wait for a better season.  They must be done well and they must be done now.

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

6 Questions We Should All Be Asking

I love a great question.  I collect them!  And I try to remember to ask them all the time and especially when I’m seeking to break free from the status quo and business-as-usual.

Here are 6 questions we should all be asking:

  1. What are the things we are doing that make it difficult for unconnected people to connect to a small group?  If we are truly on a hunt for the best ways to connect the largest number of people to a small group, we’ll need to pay careful attention to the things we are doing that make it difficult.
  2. What are the activities, attitudes and commitments that prevent unconnected people from connecting to a small group?  A best practice we could all adopt is to spend time on a regular basis listening to unconnected people.  Believe me, they have reasons they have not joined a group or are not currently connected to a group.  Until we figure out what those reasons are, we will struggle to make a compelling case for unconnected people to join a group.
  3. What are the ways we are allocating our resources that produce the greatest return on investment?  You may prefer “bear the most fruit” to “produce the greatest return on investment.”  No matter.  If we want to hear “well done,” we will all be paying attention to outcomes.  Doing the same things again and again, hoping for a different outcome, is more than the definition of insanity.  It is poor stewardship.
  4. What are the ways we are allocating our resources that produce the lowest return on investment?  This is obviously the flip side of the previous question, but it is potentially a very productive conversation.  Yes, it is a very difficult and challenging pathway, but if we would be good stewards it is a conversation we must have.
  5. What are we not doing that we should start doing immediately?  This is a game-changing conversation.  So often, we know what we should be doing and we just don’t do it.  It is about good stewardship.
  6. What are we doing that we should stop doing immediately?  Again, this is a flip side question but an essential conversation.  It is about stewardship.  It is about allocating resources to the critical growth path.

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

Here are some additional posts that might be helpful:

5 Things to Think about as 2014 Comes to a Close

The end of the year is the time to think about, to evaluate, how your strategy worked; how close you got to where you were aiming.

5 things you ought to be looking at:

  1. Did you establish “wins” for the strategies you used this year?  If so, how did you do?  Did your plans succeed or fail?  If you didn’t establish wins, plan on adding this very important ingredient in 2015.  Andy Stanley’s 7 Practices of Effective Ministry is an excellent resource for this.  See also, What Will You Call a “Win” for the Groups in Your Ministry?
  2. Did you move closer to the preferred future?  Or simply prevent slippage?  If you haven’t developed a refined preferred future, it is time and you need to do it.  See also, Creating Your “Refined” Preferred Future.
  3. Are you ending the year with a solid plan for 2015?  Even if you developed an annual calendar for 2014-15 (i.e., September to August), it’s a good idea to recalibrate for the start of the new year.  What changes or adjustments do you need to make?  See also, How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar.
  4. What have been your key learnings?  What have you learned is true in your setting that you didn’t know before?  What have you learned is actually an outdated assumption?  See also, Is It Time to Take a Fresh Look at Your Assumptions? and My Top 3 Learnings about Small Group Ministry This Year.
  5. What aspects of your design need to be carefully examined?  Remember, “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley).”  If you want different results, you need to develop a different design.  Doing the same things again and again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity (Albert Einstein).  Using the same strategy after you know it is ineffective is irresponsible and poor stewardship.  See also, 7 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Has a Bad Design.

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

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.”

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