Archive - Strategic Thinking RSS Feed

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

Free-Market

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, LifeChurch.tv.  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.

Is It Time for a Fresh Look at Your Assumptions?

I don’t know about you, but I bet you’re not that different than me.  I regularly find myself surprised by divergent opinions about things that I assumed everyone would be on board with.  Just yesterday in a staff retreat virtually everyone at my table saw an idea from a completely different perspective than my senior pastor and me.  This morning I had an engaging conversation with a reader who sees the question in yesterday’s post through a much different lens than I do.

Can you relate?

Perspective, point of view, and underlying assumptions all play such a key role in how we see the world; in how we see everything.

This morning I was reminded again how important it is that we regularly take a fresh look at our assumptions.  And when I think about assumptions, I always think about a challenging and scary set of findings in a study done by authors Matthew S. Olson, Derek van Bever, and Seth Verry (reported in When Growth Stalls, a really helpful article over at HBR).

Their most scary finding?

Assumptions that a team has held the longest or the most deeply are the most likely to be its undoing.

Their most challenging finding?

(In order to avoid a growth stall) Leaders must bring the underlying assumptions that drive company strategy into line with the changes in the external environment.

My takeaway:

It will always be a good idea to spend some quality time unearthing the assumptions that form the foundation of your ministry.  I’ve written about this many times.  Here are some of the articles:

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

3 Steps to Take When the Flux Capacitor #FAILS

flux capacitorI love Ed Stetzer’s line that “If the 1950s came back, many churches are ready.”  I don’t know what happens when you read the line, but here’s what runs through my mind*:

  • Sunday morning services featuring stanzas 1, 2 and 4 from two hymns from the 16th, 17th or 18th century (Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and John Newton) and one from either the 19th century (Fanny Crosby) or a southern gospel chorus (think How Great Thou Art or He Touched Me).  Ultra progressive churches would later substitute a praise chorus from the Gaither Vocal Band.
  • King James Version (even though the last native users of the King James english had been dead for over 200 years).
  • Come forward invitations (The busses will wait.  If you came with a friend…they’ll wait).
  • Sunday school for all ages.
  • Dinner on the grounds.
  • Sunday night services (unique content, sometimes tailored to the most faithful)
  • Sunday night programming (discipleship training, youth choir, etc.).
  • Monday night visitation (who doesn’t like two strangers showing up at dinner time)
  • Wednesday night prayer meeting.
  • Wednesday night programming (Royal Ambassadors, Girls Auxiliary, choir practice, etc.).

Here’s the question of the day:

How close does your church’s current ministry model fit this paradigm?

Listen…if you’ve simply substituted menu items (i.e., Awana for Royal Ambassadors and Girls Auxiliary, on-campus discipleship groups for prayer meeting, and the New King James Version for the original)…you fit the mold Ed Stetzer has written about.  It may very well be that you have a myopic understanding of the culture.  As a result, you probably have a bloated belong and become menu that is keeping you from effectively reaching your community.

Here’s reality.  If this is your current ministry model, you’re counting on a flux capacitor.

Need to change?

I realize that what I’ve identified here is laughable to churches that have already joined the 21st century and terrifying to those that haven’t.  Still…I’m hoping that if you need to change and want to change, you’ll take these critical steps.  Please don’t hear judgement.  Hear encouragement!

Three Steps to Take When the Flux Capacitor #FAILS

  1. A thorough diagnosis of your present.  See also, Diagnosis: Brutal Honesty about Your Present.
  2. A thoughtful declaration of your preferred future.  See also, Start with the End in Mind.
  3. A series of determined steps in the right direction.  See also, Milestones that Lead to the Preferred Future.

*I was born in 1956…so I’m really describing Southern Baptist churches of the 1960s.

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

Quotebook: Never Stop Questioning

I’ve written many times about the power of a great question.  Here are two of my favorite posts: Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions and Ministry in a Fog? Here are 6 Critical Questions That Create Clarity.

Here is what Albert Einstein thought about questions:

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert Einstein

When was the last time you asked a great question?

The Question Everyone Ought to Be Asking

As you know…there are no problem-free strategies or solutions.  Every strategy, every solution comes with a set of problems.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, 5 Strategic Flaws That Cripple Ministry Impact.

With me?

Once you come to the conclusion that there are no problem-free strategies or solutions, the very next step is to begin determining goals and objectives based on your mission (or the business you are in).  Once you’ve set goals and objectives based on your mission, it’s time to determine the best way to accomplish your goals and objectives.  This is about the model or the program you will choose to use.  See also, Supercharge Your Ministry with These 5 Questions.

What is the best way to _____________?  Fill in the blank with whatever your goal or objective is.  For example:

  • What is the best way to connect everyone to a small group?
  • What is the best way to help everyone find a way to serve that fits their unique shape?
  • What is the best way to help everyone overcome the me-first self-centered view that is so common?
  • Etc.

What is the best way to ____________?

Have you learned to ask this question?  Or are you still stuck with legacy models and strategies?  You know what I mean by legacy models, right?  Think about the programs you’re still using that were installed in another era.  Good examples might be Wednesday or Sunday night programing.  Others would be Monday night visitation and Sunday morning programs that are designed to disciple or connect adults (but in many cases are really smaller versions of the weekend service).

Nothing Wrong with Legacy

Listen, there is rarely anything inherently wrong with a legacy model or strategy.  Asking what is the best way to __________? simply uncovers…wait for it…the best way to ___________.  And that is the point.  Right?

Why Don’t We Ask the Question?

What is the best way to ___________?

Why don’t we ask the question?  Too often we don’t ask the question because:

Have You Asked the Question?

Have you asked the question?  Why not?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Page 1 of 1112345»10...Last »