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.

2006

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).

 2013

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

Insight: The Upside of a Scorecard over a Job Description

I’m frequently asked for a sample job description for small group pastors. Generally it is a senior pastor or executive pastor asking for a copy (to use as they enter the hunt to hire a small group pastor).

I tell them, “We don’t use a job description at Canyon Ridge, but I can share my scorecard with you.” And that often sets off a back and forth email chain as I try to explain the scorecard concept (and how it is related to our monthly one-to-one check-ins).

Here’s our method of scorecards and one-to-one monthly check-ins:

A little over 5 years ago we moved from job descriptions to scorecards. We got the idea from Who: The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart and Randy Street. It would be a tremendous over-simplification to say it is a very helpful book on hiring the right people.

We got a ton from Who, but one of the most important insights had to do with our current understanding of the upside of a scorecard over a job description.

Three main differences between a scorecard and a typical job description:

First, while a job description typically describes duties and expectations, “Scorecards describe the mission for the position, outcomes that must be accomplished, and competencies that fit both the culture of the company and the role.”

Second, while a job description tends to be static and unchanging, a scorecard is dynamic and changes as outcomes are accomplished.

Finally, while a job description tends to be written by the organization, a scorecard can become a very personal outline of future intentions and actions. A new team member may be handed their first scorecard, but it almost always becomes something written by the employee as a way of saying, “here are my plans for the next 30, 90 or 180 days.”

You can see a copy of my most current scorecard right here (written in December, I’ll be editing it, removing a few items as these have been accomplished and adding a few more items I’ll be working on).

Monthly One-to-One Check-Ins:

The second component of our system is a monthly one-to-one check-in meeting/conversation. The essence of the check-in is a conversation guided by a morphing set of questions. I refer to the questions as “morphing” because they are not exactly the same every month. There are four main categories for the questions (two are directly related to the scorecard and two are personal).

Each of the four categories of questions include several questions, but the main questions directly related to the scorecard are (1) What were your goals since your last Rating* Month? and (2) What projects/tasks will you work on until your next rating* month?

You should be able to see the connection between the scorecard (in most cases developed by the employee) and the monthly one-to-one check-in. The role of the supervisor is able to shift to staff development. The desired employee becomes much more invested in identifying the hills to be taken and the work to be done.

*Rating month refers to our current method of merit pay increases and could be the subject of a future post.

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

Further Reading:

Is Point of View Hiding the Answer to Your Problem?

Is Point of View Hiding the Answer to Your Problem?

One of my favorite quotes, so packed with insight, is that “perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”  Coined by the brilliant Alan Kay, this quote reminds us that identifying the best answer to a problem is directly related to perspective or point-of-view.

I like to say, don’t be surprised that you never see a better way of doing something if you never walk around and look at it from another angle.

When I’m on a consulting engagement, I frequently act out looking at something from another angle by physically walking around something and pointing out how different it looks from another angle.

Perspective, or point of view, is worth 80 IQ points.

This is why I often caution against simply adopting wholesale the small group ministry solutions of another, even a very successful small group ministry.

You must keep in mind that the success you observe from afar is based on circumstances and realities that aren’t true where you are.

“Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”  What insurmountable challenge would become a thing of the past if you only changed your perspective?

Further Reading:

10 Assumptions that Shape My Small Group Ministry Strategy

10 Ideas that Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry

Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions

5 Questions You Should Be Asking When Choosing a Small Group Model

6 Questions We Should All Be Asking

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A New Strategy We’re Testing

testingA New Strategy We’re Testing

We’re testing a new strategy at Canyon Ridge I thought you might want to know about.

Here’s the basic concept

The basic concept of the strategy is based on this question*:

Since our weekend message series are conceived and developed to move our congregation in a certain direction, could we identify (or create) next steps that can more naturally be promoted as the best next step (based on the content of our weekend message series)?

See where this is going?

When you think about your church’s normal plateful of events, programs, and activities and the tremendous pressure applied by every ministry owner and their constituents to promote their events, programs and activities from the stage…

I think you see where this is going. Right?

Forget the push from every ministry, program, event, and activity to promote their thing.

Sometimes it’s difficult to promote strategically important next steps naturally in the sermon or even in the announcements when what you’re promoting seems to come from left field. For instance, when you’d like to take advantage of your senior pastor’s influence by having him mention the upcoming small group connection in his message…but his message is on having an impact in the world.

Now…honestly, there is a little chicken and the egg going on here, but I think you see where I’m going.

An example of the new strategy at work:

Remember, the essence of the new strategy is to identify (or create) next steps that can more naturally be promoted as the best next step (based on the content of our weekend message series).

Two tracks to look at:

On the weekend message series track: Our current message series is called Margin and the four messages will unpack the need for financial, calendar, and relational margin. We began 2017 with a series called Impact: Be One. Have One. Our teaching team felt it made sense for the following series to be on having enough margin to include the most important things in life (that often get crowded out by a lack of financial, relational, or calendar margin).

On the providing the best next step track: At the same time, our Groups team hoped to promote a short-term on-campus strategy (that leads to off-campus groups) in order to connect unconnected people. We had planned to offer three options: Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage, Authentic Manhood, and Comparison Trap (for women), promote them via announcements, sermon mentions, website content and church-wide emails and generate sign-ups with a bulletin insert. We’ve done this for three years running and it’s been reasonably effective. You can find out more about this strategy right here.

Where the new idea comes in: In order to take advantage of the natural momentum of the current message series on margin, we’re highlighting a short-term on-campus study called Simplify by Bill Hybels. We’re mentioning Simplify in both our weekend messages themselves and the announcements because it is a natural next step that can be promoted out of the margin series. The original three options (i.e., Laugh Your Way, etc.) will be promoted on the back side of the bulletin insert.

Can you see it? I’ll keep you posted as we test the new idea. It feels like a good step to me.

*Note: We are always asking questions about what we’ve just finished doing, currently doing or thinking about doing next. See the further reading for some of the best questions we ask.

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

Further Reading:

Image by Shaun Fisher

Evaluate the Connection Potential of Your “First Step out of the Auditorium”

first stepEvaluate the Connection Potential of Your “First Step out of the Auditorium”

Most churches have already adopted, adapted or developed a “first step out of the auditorium” that is regularly promoted and held on a regular basis. It may be Saddleback’s CLASS 101, an adaptation of some other first step class, or a class completely of your own design, but most churches have this strategy in play (and let’s just say, if you don’t yet have a “first step out of the auditorium” you need to!).

The basic question is, how effective is your first step out of the auditorium?

Don’t Miss THIS

The more advanced (and more pertinent to all of us) is how effective is the connection potential of your first step out of the auditorium? Don’t miss this point. A well designed first step out of the auditorium points participants to a carefully crafted next step.

A well designed first step out of the auditorium points participants to a carefully crafted next… Click To Tweet

Evaluate your “first step out of the auditorium”:

  1. Are you holding it often enough and promoting it regularly enough to capture the attention of unconnected people (who are typically infrequent attenders)? Your church’s size and the number of new or unconnected people you hope to see take this first step are probably determining how frequently you are holding the class. How frequently you are holding the class is probably determining how regularly you are promoting it. Note: If your size and number of new or unconnected people make the first step awkward to hold on a frequent basis, it may the wrong first step. An intermediate first step held more frequently, designed to feel good with only a few people, may be begging to be implemented.
  2. Is your “first step” easy to take? Is it at a convenient time? Does the way you offer it remove obstacles (i.e., by providing childcare, including a meal or a a snack if the time dictates, short enough to fit in busy schedules, etc.). Note: Pay close attention to any obstacles or issues that prevent offering an easy “first step” (i.e., another ministry or program has the best room reserved, childcare can’t be offered at the best time, etc.). Removing obstacles is not a nice extra. It is essential practice if you want to connect infrequent and unconnected attenders.
  3. Is your “first step” obvious? Are you offering it in a way that is unopposed (that is, alone on the calendar or time slot as the singular opportunity)? Is it clear from your promotion that this class or experience is the thing you want everyone to do? Or does it actually feel like one of several equally valid next steps? Note: While all of these steps are challenging, converting from a buffet of options to a single best choice might be the most difficult. Until you are able to take this step, it will be challenging to offer an obvious first step out of the auditorium.
  4. Is you “first step” strategic? Does the class or experience point attenders to a clearly marked next step (or a very narrow set of possible next steps)? To be strategic your “first step” must offer built-in and predetermined next steps that are designed for infrequent and unconnected attenders to take. These built-in and predetermined next steps must be easy, obvious and strategic themselves. Note: This is where you must do some of your best work. If your “first step” does not include as one of a narrow set of next steps attending a connection or signing up for a short-term group, you are leaving a very important opportunity on the table.

How did you do? Do you have a “first step” out of the auditorium? Are you holding it often enough and promoting it regularly enough? Is it an easy step? Is it an obvious step? Is it strategic?

Your answers to these four questions will reveal your assignment going forward.

Further Reading:

Image by minolta102

 

Your Philosophy of Ministry and Decision-Making

decision-makingYour Philosophy of Ministry and Decision-Making

Have you ever really thought through your philosophy of ministry? How about the assumptions that shape your small group strategy? See also, 10 Ideas that Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry and 7 Assumptions that Shape My Small Group Strategy.

I know, it may seem like something you will do someday or something that would be nice to do if only you had more time. But, I have to tell you…once you have firm certain aspects of your philosophy and the assumptions that undergird your strategy, you will have a much, much easier time making decisions!

How will it make decision-making easier? Here’s an example:

A couple days ago I posted an article about How to Budget for a Thriving Small Group Ministry. In the article I listed four categories that I budget for and one of the categories was starting new groups. Another was our annual church-wide campaign. In the category for starting new groups I noted the following:

We budget money that will make it easy for a new host to say yes to hosting. When someone says “yes” to inviting a couple friends to do the study, we want to make it more affordable. We do that by “buying” down the price of the host kit (for example, the retail value of the Transformed host kit was $65. We sold them for $20).

We’ve made connecting unconnected people one of our highest priorities. It’s a higher priority than helping our existing groups continue (although we do want to do that too!).

My reference to this budget item drew a very good question from a reader:

“Are you offsetting the cost of the DVDs? I think you usually say you charge about $25 for the host kit and most DVDs that I’ve seen with the studies average [are much more expensive].”

And my answer to the reader was entirely shaped by my philosophy and assumptions:

Yes. When we did Transformed, the study guides retailed for $15 and the DVDs for $25. We had a budget for campaigns that allowed us to distribute the DVDs free to our group leaders and charge each member $10 for their study guide. In order to make it easy (and affordable) for new hosts who were inviting a couple unconnected friends to do the study with them, we sold them the kit for $20 ($70 retail).
We did not have the budget to do this when I first arrived. We got to this point by prioritizing new groups and the needs of the least connected.

To flesh out my response, here are a few other considerations:

  • When I arrived at Canyon Ridge in 2012 I discovered we were subsidizing the cost of many programs that were primarily designed to meet the needs of the already connected and more spiritually developed.
  • When I arrived at Canyon Ridge there wan’t a budget for connecting the least connected (i.e., church-wide campaigns, small group connections, etc.).
  • Over the course of the last 4 1/2 years we have progressively reapportioned the budget to prioritize the needs and interests of the least connected (and the least likely to have the discretionary funds to sign up).
  • While most of our already connected and more spiritually developed attenders (core, committed and congregation) have been understood the change, there have consistently been a few questions and comments (steadily decreasing) that required conversations.
  • All of this falls neatly under the heading of two of my most important assumptions
    • There are no problem-free solutions. All solutions come with a set of problems. Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they would rather have.
    • Unconnected people are one tough thing away from not being at our church.  Every delay at connecting them puts many of them in jeopardy.

Takeaway:

My philosophy of ministry and assumptions that shape my small group strategy make this a very simple decision.

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

Image by Jessica Pankratz

Don’t Miss the Upside of a Good Problem, Crisis, or Constraint

doorwayDon’t Miss the Upside of a Good Problem, Crisis, or Constraint

I’ve written extensively about there being no problem-free solution, strategy, or model. If you’ve read much here you know the next line is that wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.

Problems

I don’t talk about it as much, but it’s also true that we should never waste a good problem. A problem can lead to delay, frustration, or even despair. But it doesn’t have to. It can lead to some of the best thinking you will ever do. A good problem can force or help you to try out a new perspective and “perspective is worth 80 IQ points (Alan Kay).”

Before you simply chalk up what’s happening as a problem, spend some time analyzing the problem itself. Ask, “How might this problem actually help us rethink the solution?” See also, 4 Foundational Questions for Small Group Ministries.

Crises

In a slight modernization of Machiavelli*, Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” The essence of his thinking? Crises afford opportunities to do things you wouldn’t do (or be able to do) in the absence of a crisis.

The next time a crisis develops in your ministry, spend some time evaluating what opportunities the crisis might be affording. See also, Avoid These 4 Realities at Your Own Peril.

Constraints

Constraints (budget, volunteers, the attention span of your senior pastor, etc.) can feel like deal breakers. Constraints can feel like impassible barriers.

But they don’t have to. Jason Fried, a co-founder of Basecamp, has pointed out that, “Instead of freaking out about these constraints, embrace them. Let them guide you. Constraints drive innovation and force focus. Instead of trying to remove them, use them to your advantage.”

The essence of Fried’s thinking? Simple. When confronted by a constraint, focus your thinking and action on what you can do. See also, Diagnosing Your Discipleship Strategy.

Takeaway

Don’t miss the upside of a good problem, crisis, or constraint. They each offer a doorway to great opportunity.

*“Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.” Niccolo Machiavelli

Image by Joanna Paterson

coaching-call

What Are You Trying to Produce?

produce assembly lineOne of the questions I ask all the time is, “What do we want people to do?” Another is, “What do we want people to become?” The correct answers to these questions are not generalizations (i.e., fully devoted followers, disciples, etc.). The correct answers are very specific and defined.

Think about these two questions. Can you see that they are both about next steps? Can you see also they are both about outcomes and products?

When we think in advance about what we want people to do we are more likely to design the program, event, or message with that next step in mind. When we think in advance about what we want people to become we are more likely to design the program, event, or message with that outcome in mind.

Thinking in advance about outcomes and products is at the very heart of designing effective next steps and first steps. When we take the time to thoughtfully determine these two things in advance (i.e., “What do we want people to do?” and, “What do we want people to become?”), we dramatically increase our chances of succeeding, of actually arriving at the preferred future we dream of for our ministry and for the people we are leading.

Can you see that asking these questions in advance actually helps clarify what a win will be for the program, event or message we are planning? That’s right. Determining and declaring on the front end the outcomes and products you desire will not only help you plan the program, event or message, it will enable you to know whether you are winning.

I love this quote from Mike Bonem’s Leading from the Second Chair:

“I am convinced that the reason for so much burnout, lack of commitment, and low performance in our churches among staff and members is directly related to the failure to declare the results we are after.  We don’t know when we are winning.”

Would you like to decrease burnout, lack of commitment, and low performance? Spend more time determining in advance what you want people to do and what you want people to become. Be specific. Define the next step you want people to take and what you want them to become. And then design the event, program or message with that outcome, with that product in mind.

Further Reading:

Test-Drives, Taste Tests, and Toes-in-the-Water

toes in the waterTest-Drives, Taste Tests, and Toes-in-the-Water

Buying without trying is down.

Contracts and long commitments are out.

File these under #ThingsYouMustKeepInMind

Test-Drives, Taste Tests, and Toes-in-the-Water are in.

Question: How does this affect you and me?

I think it ought to affect us in two ways:

First, it ought to reshape our thinking about the importance of offering test-drives, taste-tests and toes-in-the-water. Think about it. Virtually everything is now available to be experienced now and purchased later.

You can listen to the song before you buy on iTunes. You can read a portion of the book on Amazon. You can arrange a test-drive of just about any car you’d like to drive. You can ask for a taste at the ice cream store or the brewery. Many clothing and shoe manufacturers now offer free shipping and free returns to entice you to try on their product.

If we want to connect unconnected people we should be offering test-drives, taste-tests and toes-in-the-water. Most of what we are offering feels like something you buy before you try (which is a very antiquated sales strategy). How long ago did that pass into history in just about every other arena?

Second, it ought to reshape our thinking about the length of commitment we’re asking for. Think about it. Renting is on the rise. Services like Spotify, Apple Music, Netflix and Hulu make it increasingly common to pay for access rather than purchase.

When we plan small group connecting events we should keep in mind that long commitments are out. If we want to help unconnected people take a step to join a group we should be offering baby steps.

Note: Baby steps must be designed with babies in mind. What is a baby step to a baby is a very important thing to understand. What we think is a baby step is often seen as a giant step by the babies themselves. And their perspective is the only perspective that matters.

Further Reading:

Image by Christine Rondeau