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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.”

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.

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