Marketing to Millennials: If You Want to Connect Millennials…a Must Read

marketing to millennials 2Figured out how to connect Millennials yet?  If you’re like me, you have way more questions than answers.  Determined to begin assembling a better understanding of the Millennial generation I picked up a copy of Marketing to Millennials: Reach the Largest and Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever, a highly rated 2011 marketing book by Jeff Fromm and Christie Garton.  This is a great find and a must read!

Fromm co-authored a report called “American Millennials: Deciphering the Enigma Generation, based on a comprehensive research study conducted by Barkley, The Boston Consulting Group and Service Management Group.  The findings from that research are the foundations for this book.

The book reveals the eight attitudes shared by most Millennials, fascinating insights that reveal six distinct Millennial segments, as well as the new rules for engaging them successfully.

Every chapter includes a case study (or two) that will help you see how major retailers are using a better understanding of Millennials to engage and market to this very large demographic slice.  An easy to read summary provides a synopsis of every chapter’s key takeaways.

This is a fascinating and eye-opening book.  My copy is marked up.  I came away with many ideas that will make their way into our strategies to engage Millennials.  If you’ve been trying to figure out how to reach and connect the Millennial generation, I really do believe this is a must read book.  If you’re not thinking about this already…you better get started!  You can pick up your copy of Marketing to Millennials right here.

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 will receive an affiliate commission. I am also the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

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 Things I Wish I Had Known about Small Group Coaches

I led my first small group in 1983 and was coaching my first network of small group leaders in 1984.  Over the last 30 years I’ve tried just about every system and experimented with so many different ideas I’ve actually been called a “mad scientist.”

And while I’m glad I’ve had the experience, there are definitely many things I wish I had known about small group ministry.

Here are 5 things I wish I’d known about small group coaches

  1. Coaching has nothing to do with keeping score or accounting.  When the primary function of a coach is to check on small group leaders, find out how many people are attending or whether the leader has an apprentice, your coaching structure has already failed.  Coaching is about care, not keeping score or accounting.  See also, FAQ: What Does a Coach Need to Know from a Small Group Leader?
  2. Coaching is only about technique in the very beginning.  The notion that a coach exists to coach small group leaders on how to lead their group is one of the most common reasons that coaching is rarely effective.  Sure, new small group leaders often need some basic skill training when they first begin.  But, and this is so important, most small group leaders learn what they need to know how to do in the first 90 days or so…or their group dies.  See also, Coaching FAQ: How Much of Coaching Is about Technique.
  3. The primary role of a coach is to do to and for whatever you want leaders to do to and for their members.  This is a huge learning!  Coaching has much more to do with mentoring.  Remember, whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.  See also, Life-Change at the Member Level.
  4. Retroactively assigning coaches to experienced small group leaders almost never works.  Once you’ve heard about the importance of span of care, the natural conclusion is that if “every leader needs to be cared for by someone.”  Unfortunately, what seems self-evident almost always has the effect of a bad organ transplant.  Rejection.  Fortunately, it is possible to provide care for experienced leaders with a little finesse and wisdom.  See also, How to Implement Coaching for Existing Group Leaders.
  5. The right coaching candidates almost never volunteer.  The right candidates don’t seek out the position.  They aren’t thinking of themselves “more highly than they ought.”  On the flip side, there are always people who seek the title and the influence that goes with it.  Far better to learn to say “no” or “not now.”  Make it your practice to recruit only those you really want (and then to a test-drive).  It’s much more difficult to ask someone to step down than it is to invite them to begin.  See also, The Upside of Reluctant Leaders and The End in Mind for an Effective Coaching Structure.

Don’t miss The 5 Things I Wish I Had Known about Small Group Leaders.

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

5 Things I Wish I Had Known about Small Group Leaders

I led my first small group in 1983 and was coaching my first network of small group leaders in 1984.  Over the last 30 years I’ve tried just about every system and experimented with so many different ideas I’ve actually been called a “mad scientist.”

And while I’m glad I’ve had the experience, there are definitely many things I wish I had known about small group ministry.

Here are 5 things I wish I’d known about small group leaders.

  1. Great Bible teachers are rarely effective as small group leaders.  Not that great Bible teachers are never effective as mall group leaders.  It is just unusual.  There are two key reasons for this.  First, great Bible teachers rarely reproduce themselves.  Their skill can be intimidating for group members to even take a turn.  Second, life-change happens most frequently when there is dialogue.  Teachers only occasionally are skilled facilitators.  See also, What’s the Difference Between a Sunday School Class and a Small Group?
  2. Promoting a new leader training class is an ineffective recruiting method.  Nearly everyone has tried this idea.  Schedule a training class for prospective small group leaders.  Promote it in the bulletin.  Think happy thoughts about how nice it will be to have 5 or 10 more qualified leaders.  The problem is that a high percentage of those who sign up for small group leader training have unhealthy below-the-waterline agendas or have low relational intelligence (and have trouble launching or sustaining a group).  See also, 5 GroupLife Dots You May Not Be Connecting.
  3. The best potential group leaders are usually reluctant volunteers.  This may feel completely counterintuitive but it is almost always true.  This is a significant aha and a main reason that the small group connection and the HOST strategy in combination with a church-wide campaign were such genius innovations.  Both strategies do a great job of helping potential  leaders take that important first step.  See also, The Upside of Reluctant Volunteers.
  4. It’s common for the best potential leaders to be unknown.  Once your Easter adult attendance reaches 250, it becomes increasingly more likely that the pastor and staff do not know everyone.  As the number of unknown adults increases it is a certainty that 5 to 10% of the unknowns are actually potential leaders (who in many cases did everything in their former church or are significant leaders in their day job).
  5. The least connected people in your church have the most connections outside your church.  Just think about this for a minute.  In my experience, when I ask the most connected people in my church who their 10 best friends are (in the area), they’ll almost always name 8, 9 or 10 other people who are also very connected at my church.  With me?  What if I ask the least connected people who their 10 best friends are (in the area)?  They will almost always name 8, 9 or 10 people who have never been to my church.  Here’s the question: Who would have the best chance of inviting unconnected people to their group?  See also, Exponential Outreach.

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

The Rise of the Nones: A Must Read

The rise of the nones 2Worked my way through The Rise of the Nones this week.  New from James Emery White, the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church, this is a must read in my opinion.  White is an insightful observer of culture and culture shifts and the implications of this particular shift ought to be a front burner conversation for all of us.  This is why I included The Rise of the Nones on my 2014 Summer Reading List.

The title refers to the dramatic increase in the percentage of Americans indicating “none” when asked about their religion (A 2012 Pew Forum study titled “Nones on the Rise” indicates that one in five Americans (19.3%) claim no religious identity at all (up from 15% in 2008 and 8% in 1990)).  As White points out, “the ‘nones’ are now the fastest growing religious group in America.”

The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated  is divided into two parts.  The first part “will give you the cultural analysis needed to understand the who, what and why of the rise of the nones.”  Part two “is an overview of the new mentality and approach that is needed to connect” with the nones and “not only reach them for Christ but involved them in the life of the church.”

The Rise of the Nones is packed with insights.  There is so much here that will play a part in how our ministry approach must be retooled if we want to reach this growing demographic.  My copy is pretty marked up as I noticed one insight after another that needs to inform our approach.  For example, White notes from the ARIS study, “the largest group, the religiously indifferent, ‘neither care to practice religion or oppose it.  They are simply not invested in religion either way.’”

Along with being jam packed with insights, every chapter includes a set of questions that can be used by groups seeking a better understanding of the implications.

I can see The Rise of the Nones being read by church staffs as well as ministry teams within a staff.  In all honesty, I don’t think these findings can be ignored.  This book ought to be next up on your reading list.  It will probably alarm you…but it will also prompt you to set in motion a plan to reach this rapidly growing demographic slice.  I came away with many valuable insights that will shape the way my ministry operates.  I think The Rise of the Nones will have that influence on you too.

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 will receive an affiliate commission. I am also the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

Connecting the “Nones”

One of the most important developments in our culture is the dramatic rise in the percentage of people who claim no religion at all.  A 2012 Pew Forum study titled “Nones on the Rise” indicates that one in five Americans (19.3%) claim no religious identity at all (up from 15% in 2008 and 8% in 1990).

One in five Americans claim no religious identity at all (19.3%)

Catch that?  One in five Americans claim no religious identity at all (19.3%) and that percentage has doubled in just over 20 years.

In The Rise of the Nones James Emery White refers to the 2012 Pew Forum study titled “Nones on the Rise” and notes that

“Only 28 percent say that belonging to a community of people with shared values and beliefs is important to them.  Yet they do believe that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community and aiding the poor.  Three quarters say religious organizations bring people together and help strengthen community bonds (78%), and a similar number say religious organizations play an important role in helping the poor and needy (77%).  In other words, we may have lost the opportunity to talk to them and do life with them, but we haven’t lost the opportunity to good to them, before them, and with them–good that will open their ears and hearts to the message of the gospel.”  (p. 100, The Rise of the Nones)

How will they be reached?  How will they be connected?  White believes we have entered a new era when the easiest way to reach the fastest growing demographic in our culture is with a cause they will embrace (i.e., water, orphan care, human trafficking, etc.).

Can you see how a small group might embrace a cause as a way to reach unchurched people?

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

What Will You Call a “Win” for the Groups in Your Ministry?

I’ve written several times in the past about clarifying the win for your small group ministry.  It’s an important concept and it’s an essential strategic step.  Peter Drucker referred to this concept in his question, “What are you going to call success.”  I listed it as the third thing I’d do if I was starting today.

Need an example?  I spelled out in detail what I think are the 5 non-negotiables for true small group ministry success right here.

What will you call a win for the groups in your ministry?

What will you call a win for the groups in your ministry?  I intentionally used the word “groups” instead of “small groups” because I want you to think more inclusively.  Every type of group should have its own win.

Your church has off-campus small groups, on-campus Sunday school for adults, adult Bible fellowships, Wednesday night discipleship groups, Men’s Fraternity and a Beth Moore Bible study?  No worries.  What will you call a win for each of them?

We ought to be carefully clarifying the win for every type of group in our ministries.  This is important: there might be a different win for every type of group.  That is, you might conclude that for the small groups in your ministry is that every group member would feel “connected, cared for and urged to grow” and the win for the Beth Moore study would simply be that women would grow in their love for the Bible.

With me?  We ought to be carefully clarifying the win for every type of group in our ministries.  This is a key strategic step.  Only after clarifying the win can you determine whether your ministry is succeeding or failing.

Is your win as simple as grow in attendance by 20%?  It could be…but hopefully you’ve identified a win that is more robust.  For example, you might have studied my 8 essential ingredients for life-change in groups of all kinds and determined that a win is that your groups are experiencing 6 of those ingredients.

We ought to be carefully clarifying the win for every type of group in our ministries.  This is a key strategic step.  Only after clarifying the win can you determine whether your ministry is succeeding or failing.

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

Groups of All Kinds and the Essential Ingredients of Life-Change

“A small group provides the optimal environment for the life-change Jesus intends for every believer.”  This was one of 5 core assumptions that were embedded in Willow Creek’s small group ministry strategy in the 90s.

Was it true?  Is it true?  I believe it was and is true but I also believe that in order for it to be true…certain ingredients must be present in the group* experience**.

*These are the ingredients for a group of any kind (i.e., small group, Sunday school class, Bible study, etc.).  **Experience is an important word because the group experience extends well beyond the meeting.

What must be true about a group for it to be the optimal environment for life-change?

I believe these are the 8 key ingredients:

  1. It must be centered on following Jesus.  For a group of any kind to be the optimal environment for life-change…it must be centered on following Jesus.  While following Jesus includes learning about Him, knowledge is not the end in mind.  Following is the end in mind.  Therefore, while learning is involved, becoming is primary.  See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #2: Effective at Connecting and Ineffective at Discipling.
  2. It must be an inclusive environment.  Jesus’ first invitation was, “Come and see.”  Embracing a “come and die” aspiration should not be prerequisite to entry.  “Come as you are” is deeply woven into the fabric of inclusivity.  See also, Recruiting Like Jesus.
  3. It must encourage intentionality.  While inclusive, there is an expectation of movement.  “Come as you are…and don’t stay that way” is at the heart of life-change.  Every group leader asks the question, “What is your next step?”
  4. It must be a safe  environment where transparency is the rule, not the exception.  “All’s well” and pseudo-community is where most groups live with masks on.  Life-change happens in groups where it is safe for the real me to show up.
  5. It must be an environment that encourages dialogue.  Monologues are often efficient for distributing information.  Monologues are rarely effective at producing the personal clarity and conviction that lead to next steps.  See also, Four Countercultural Characteristics of Authentic Community.
  6. It must facilitate a 24/7 sense of connection.  What happens in the group meeting is important.  What happens between meetings is the secret ingredient that enables the life-on-life engagement that Jesus’ closest followers experienced (as did Paul’s).  Groups whose only interaction is once a week from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. or 9:00 to 10:15 a.m. cannot be expected to produce the kind of deep connection that leads to life-change.  Doing life together (i.e., a meal, a cup of coffee, a text message or a Facebook message to encourage, a phone call just to connect) is the norm in groups that produce life-change.  See also, The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group.
  7. It must cultivate the practice of the one-anothers.  This was the primary activity of the early church.  It will always be at the very heart of any effective group.  The love Jesus spoke of in John 13:34-35 was far beyond verbal.  Far more important than a hug and an “I love you brother” is a countercultural one-another.   Setting aside personal interests and paying attention to the interests of others models the sacrifice Jesus made (Philippians 2:3-11).
  8. It must have a leader who functions as a shepherd.  Lowering the bar of leadership makes it possible for ordinary people to take a first step into leadership.  At the same time, for a group to truly be the optimal environment for life-change it must have a See also, 8 Habits of Life-Changing Small Group Leaders and From Here to There: The Preferred Future for Small Group Leaders.

I don’t believe it matters what kind of group you have.  Whether you have a small group that meets off-campus or a Sunday school class that meets on-campus, certain essential ingredients must be present for a group to be the optimal environment for life-change.

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

A GroupLife Glossary for the 21st Century

Language is important.  Without a common language, the massive project known as the Tower of Babel came to an abrupt halt.

It occurs to me that we in groupland often struggle to understand a model or system, a concept or a strategy because we are hearing and seeing through the filter of our own experiences.  We are hearing and seeing through a set of assumptions that may be off by a smidge or a country mile (two very good examples of terms that mean one thing to you and another to me).  For example, in last Thursday’s post, I used the term Sunday school class in a way that confused and frustrated proponents of the Sunday school model.

Here are a few words that need definition:

Small group: It really isn’t purely a function of size.  A small group can be as small as three people.  The ideal size might be 10 to 12 people.  With good leadership, small groups can sometimes continue to grow beyond 14 to 16 but when they do they often practice sub-grouping for discussion and prayer.  Although there may be some teaching, most of the meeting is spent in discussion and prayer.  Seating is informal and generally in a circle.  Where the group meets (a living room, an office, a classroom at church, at Starbucks) is irrelevant.  See also, The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group,

Bible study: Although this term is sometimes used synonymously with small group, I use Bible study to describe a group form that is almost exclusively a teaching venue.  There may be opportunity to ask the Bible study teacher a question, but there is rarely a discussion.  Seating is often in rows, but in smaller Bible studies seating might be in a circle.

Sunday school class: This term is used to describe more than one group form and they are significantly different.  Although Sunday school classes were originally smaller groups with a teacher and sat in a circle, today the term can also apply to a form that is essentially a smaller version of the weekend service with a master teacher, corporate prayer, singing together, etc.  See also, What’s the Difference Between a Small Group and a Sunday School Class?

Adult Bible Fellowship: This group form is almost always a classroom experience of 25 or more.  Seating is usually in rows.  A typical experience would include a master teacher, corporate prayer and often singing together.  See also, True Community or Smaller Version of the Weekend Service?

Life-change: The gradual process of becoming like Jesus.  We may be new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), we may not be what we used to be and not yet what we will be (Philippians 3:12-14), but we ought to be moving in the direction of  fully mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28-29).  See also, Essential Ingredients for Life-Change and Essential Ingredients for a Meaningful Small Group.

Other terms that need definition: missional community, life-on-life, discipleship, etc.

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

Top 10 Posts of May, 2014

Miss a day?  Here are my top 10 posts of May, 2014.  I had visitors from 90 countries (and 37 languages!).  Thanks for stopping by!

  1. New to Small Group Ministry? Start Here. (This is a new page on my blog)
  2. How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure (February, 2008)
  3. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May, 2008)
  4. 7 Decisions that Predetermine Small Group Ministry Impact (May, 2014)
  5. 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group System (August, 2012)
  6. HOST: What Does It Mean? (April, 2008)
  7. Top 5 Keys to Starting New Groups. Lots of New Groups (July, 2013)
  8. 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach (May, 2014)
  9. Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups (August, 2010)
  10. Learning How to Pray Together (April, 2009)
  11. The Meta-Church Small Group Model (October, 2009)
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