Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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Start with Perfect and Work Backward

Are you dreaming about the perfect way to do small group ministry?  Or settling for a version of what you can already do?

The preferred future is one of my favorite things to talk about in my consulting work.  I illustrate it with this diagram (that I got from Glen Hiemstra).  See it?  Sure…you see it on the diagram.  But do you see the preferred future when you’re thinking about your small group ministry?

I think that is probably the key question for most small group point people.  Can you see the way your small group ministry could be?  Can you imagine the preferred future?

I was inspired by an article in Fast Company on Airbnb, one of their 50 most innovative companies.  An imaginative idea, Airbnb’s business idea is to build a “digital accommodations marketplace that people use to rent out their homes or spare rooms (or igloos, castles, or private islands) like a hotel.”  Wild?  Before you disregard the idea as crazy…keep in mind that in 2011 the company had “more than 4.5 million bookings on 100,000 active listings in 192 countries–facilitating a reported $500 million in transactions.”

Stop.  Read that again.  Still sound like a crazy idea?

I love CEO Brian Chesky’s comment when asked about the motivation behind a simple, but innovative, tactic that resulted in a dramatic boost to bookings (renting a $5000 camera and snapping high-resolution photos of as many New York host apartments as they could.  Bookings soared.  By month’s end, revenue had doubled in the city.”)

“Do things that don’t scale.  We start with the perfect experience and then work backward.”

Can I challenge you today?  If you’re not thinking about perfect experience and then working backward…you’re unlikely to see the preferred future.

Witness Essentials: Evangelism That Makes Disciples

Had a chance this week to make my way through Witness Essentials: Evangelism That Makes Disciples by Daniel Meyer.  Based on the simple observation that “in much of the Western world…Christian witness is obviously struggling, churches are shrinking and the credibility of the Christian message is sinking,” this study aims carefully at a doubly important topic and hits the bullseye.  If you’re looking for a study that both examines our role as witnesses and delivers the practices and tools needed to move from belief to action, Witness Essentials is a great addition to the toolkit.

The format of the study is the same as that of an important 2011 review: The Essential Commandment by Greg Ogden.  Twelve chapters, the study can be used in a number of ways.  Although it can certainly be used by an individual, it is primarily intended for group study and includes a set of activities that provide a rich experience.  While it can be done effectively in twelve 90 minute sessions in a class format or a small group format with an experienced and disciplined facilitator, many groups will choose to do the study over an extended season, completing each chapter at a relaxed pace.

Published by InterVarsity Press, each of the Essentials studies are based on a framework created by Greg Ogden and contain:

  • a core truth: serving “as the nugget around which each lesson is built”
  • a memory verse: allowing “God’s viewpoint on life to slowly become ours”
  • an inductive Bible study: guiding the “discovery of reality from the only perspective that counts…the Bible”
  • a reading on one aspect of the Great Commandment: providing a “contemporary discussion of the eternal core truth that will challenge our lifestyle and stimulate our thinking”

Witness Essentials provides a resource that will help develop effective witnesses.  The study is challenging and quite meaty.  If you have groups looking for deeper content that provides great application, you can add this volume to your recommended list.  Great content, delivered in a well thought out style.

Two Big Opportunities That Will Connect More People This Spring

I’ve written more than once about the power of using special days (like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day) to launch groups.  Looking at my archives for other examples alerted me to the fact that I didn’t update you fully on a key strategic innovation that I tripped across two years ago and confirmed last year.

The idea of promoting a connecting opportunity for women off of Mother’s Day and men off of Father’s Day isn’t new.  You can find out all about how to promote it and some of the steps in pulling it off well in the articles below.  The key innovation may seem trivial, but I can tell you it works big time.  Here’s what we discovered:

First of all, we’ve recognized that next to the fear of coming to church for the very first time, leaving the relatively safe anonymity of the auditorium and showing up in a stranger’s living room is right on its heels.  Clearly, it is the second greatest fear.  How can it be overcome?  Hold on campus midsize connecting events as steps that lead to the win of being connected.

Next, we concluded that it might be time to run an event that wasn’t overtly about connecting.  Instead…in 2010 we called it a book study and chose The Measure of a Man by Gene Getz for our first test.  You can read the specifics of how we did it right here.  A very successful test, we connected over 140 men in groups that began on-campus and migrated off campus over a period of 6 weeks.  9 of  the 14 groups were still meeting one year later.

Set for a second try, we promoted another book study for women in the summer of 2011.  Using Bad Girls of the Bible, we took sign-ups and prepaid orders for the book.  We designed it to have a 10 a.m. session and a 7 p.m. session.  Again, we did not have preselected leaders.  Our plan was to simply sort the women out into groups by geography and have them discuss the questions at the end of each chapter.  Amazingly, we had over 200 women attend the book study.  On the first night we learned that the evening group of over 130 women included less than ten who were connected to another group of any kind.  That is a huge learning!  Do not miss that.  These groups also began on campus and migrated off over a period of 5 or 6 weeks.  Months later, many of them were choosing follow up material and still meeting.

Here are four additional articles on this subject

How to Use Special Days to Launch Groups (6/08)

Taking Advantage of Special Days to Launch Groups (4/10)

The Results Are In…Women’s Connection Recap (5/10)

File This Under Connection Ideas (7/10)

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

“Must Learn” To Do List: #1 View the World Around You with Fresh Eyes

Want to connect people no one else is connecting?  I think your very first step is to “learn to view the world around you with fresh eyes.”

It’s so critical!  It’s built into all of us to grow accustomed to the way it is, to look right at glaring issues and completely miss the obvious…because we’ve gotten used to bad design or outdated methods.  Fresh eyes allow us to see the world around us in the way it actually is; in the way it is seen by those who aren’t blinded by the status quo.

I love this line from Gary Hamel’s newest book, What Matters Now:

“The first and most important step for any organization intent on building a capacity for continuous, gamechanging innovation is to teach people how to view the world around them with fresh eyes.” What Matters Now, Gary Hamel

Hamel makes an interesting observation.  He points out that people have to be taught how to see the world around them with fresh eyes.  They won’t come by it naturally.

I’ve found there is an instance where fresh eyes are actually quite common.  It’s when we visit an unfamiliar place.  When we visit another church for the first time, we see all kinds of things.  Some good and some bad.  Some that we tell ourselves we’d fix right away.  Others we make a note of to implement in our own organization.

But…once our eyes have become accustomed to the issues in our own place, in our own organization, it becomes increasingly more difficult to notice what someone with fresh eyes would see right away.  And that’s Hamel’s point.  If you don’t want to settle for the status quo…you’ll need to learn how to view the world around you in a new way.  With fresh eyes.

I loved this simple exercise and plan on implementing it with my own team.

  1. Gather your team and “ask each person to identify a product or service that dramatically reshaped their expectations–something that made them go ‘Wow! How amazing!”  (Note: it doesn’t have to be related to your field or expertise).
  2. Ask your team, “What were the unique attributes of that experience that made it so memorable?  How exactly did it defy their expectations?”
  3. Finally, ask your team, “How might we leverage this idea to redefine customer expectations in our own field?” (p. 70, What Matters Now)

Want to learn how to see the world around you with fresh eyes?  Here’s a start.

How to Calm an Unconnected Person’s Second Greatest Fear

We’ve all seen the studies that show that people are more afraid of speaking in public than they are of dying, right?  Or…you’ve at least heard that statistic referenced in a sermon.  But what about when it comes to grouplife?  What are unconnected people really afraid of?  Here’s what I remind my team about all the time:

When we’re designing connecting opportunities, we need to keep in mind that for many unconnected men and women…just driving into the church parking lot and getting out of their cars for the first time was really scary.

Now, I’ll admit that there are people who move to a new church and never think twice about it.  I’m not talking about them.  I’m talking about the people that finally act on an invitation to give your church a try…and pull into your parking lot not knowing what lies ahead.

That is scary.  Where do we go?  What will it be like?  Will the people be friendly?  Will it be really boring?

It’s a scary experience.  I think we can all empathize, at least to a degree.

What I think we miss sometimes, and this is what I talk with my team about, is that in many cases their second greatest fear is even scarier!  What’s their second greatest fear?  I think it’s leaving the comfortable anonymity of your auditorium and showing up at a stranger’s front door to join a small group!  Queue the Psycho sound effect.

You see it, right?  So…what can we do about it?

An On-Campus Connecting Event’s Major Advantage

While it is almost always really scary to show up at a stranger’s front door, it’s much safer to walk from the auditorium to an on-campus connecting event like a small group connection.  I may not know anyone in the room, but at least I know where the room is.  I may not really be looking forward to talking to strangers…but at least we’ll all be in a neutral territory.  I may not know what’s going to happen…but at least everyone’s in the same boat!

Before you jump to any conclusions, I love the HOST strategy and it’s ability to connect neighbors, friends, family members and co-workers.  When I’m invited to join a group meeting in a friend’s living room…it’s a totally different experience.

What we’re talking about here is that while some percentage of unconnected adults will go online and use your small group finder or walk up to a booth in the lobby and ask how to join a group, they’re not the majority.  If you want to connect people no one else is connecting, you’re going to have to keep their needs and concerns in mind as you plan your connecting opportunities.

Can you see it?  If you want to connect 150% of your weekend adult attendance, you’re going to need to take advantage of both on-campus opportunities (like the small group connection) and decentralized, off-campus strategies (like HOST).

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

Top 10 Posts of March, 2012

Here are my top 10 posts of March, 2012.  It’s always interesting to me to see which articles are actually getting read the most.  In part because I choose an article or two everyday from the over 800 in my archives and tweet and post them to Facebook, I guess it’s not really surprising that only one of this month’s top ten was written in March of 2012!  By the way, if you’re not following me on Twitter or connected on Facebook…you’re missing out on an additional resource!

  1. New from Beth Moore | James: Mercy Triumphs (11/11)
  2. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection (5/08)
  3. 10 Essential Small Group Leader Skills (6/10)
  4. Review: Not a Fan (9/10)
  5. Conducting a GroupLife Audit 1.0 (5/12)
  6. Concentric Circles (3/08)
  7. The Meta Church Small Group Model (10/09)
  8. How to Choose a Small Group System or Strategy (10/09)
  9. 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups (10/08)
  10. If I Was Starting Today (4/08)

Top 10 Reasons to Discontinue Small Group Coaching

First of all, you’re not alone.  Okay?  Everyone’s had these thoughts from time to time.

Here are the top 10 reasons to discontinue small group coaching:

  1. We tried coaching back in 1988 after a Meta Church conference and it never really caught on.
  2. The coaches we recruited in 1988 have a lifetime gig like a Supreme Court justice and we can’t figure out how to impeach them!
  3. Once our apprentices finish their 5 year apprenticeship to birth a new group…they know everything Carl George, Steve Gladen and Bill Donahue know and are already fully devoted followers with the character and heart of Jesus.
  4. We couldn’t find anyone whose SHAPE and DiSC profile along with their Myers-Briggs type indicator could overcome their Monvee spiritual inhibitor!
  5. Several of our coaches were charged with illegal recruiting practices.
  6. It turns out that being an elder doesn’t automatically make you a good coach.
  7. The only people who applied for the position were multi level marketers building their downline.
  8. Our small group leaders already have all the answers and are everything they’re ever going to be.
  9. Our small group pastor loves personally interacting with 37 small group leaders every month.
  10. Our small group leaders never really enjoyed being water-boarded during the monthly interrogation!

Need help building your coaching structure?  Here are my Top 10 Articles on Small Group Coaching.  Don’t give up.  Just stop water-boarding your leaders!

The Futility of the Mainstream

What’s your plan for connecting the rest of the unconnected people in your congregation?  Have a plan?  Thinking about a plan?

What’s your plan for connecting the people beyond the usual suspects who join you this Easter?  Or next Christmas Eve?  Have a plan?  Thinking about a plan?  Ever?

One thing I am absolutely convinced of is that if you want to “connect people no one else is connecting, you’re going to have to do things no one else is doing.”  Love that line (Full Disclosure: It’s not my line.  It’s an adaptation of a stunning Craig Groeschel line).

And that thinking leads me to a simple reality with profound consequences.  Here it is:

If your current strategy isn’t regularly testing the boundaries, you’re unlikely to have breakthrough results.  And it will absolutely take breakthrough results if you want to connect people no one else is connecting.

I tripped across another great line re-reading Gary Hamel’s marvelous book, The Future of Management.  Hamel said, “You are unlikely to see the future if you standing in the mainstream.”  Another line with tremendous insight.  Here’s what I take from it:

If what you’re trying can be described as tweaking last year’s model…you’re not headed for a breakthrough.  If what you’re doing to connect people can be taken straight from a strategy developed to connect and care for church members in the 60s, 70s, and 80s…you cannot expect it to yield breakthrough results in post-Christian America.

Want to connect your neighbor?   Want to connect the people in your carpool or the friend you’re developing in the next cubicle?  You are unlikely to see that future if you are standing in the mainstream.  It will take courage.  It will take a willingness to fail.  It will take an openness to new ideas.

Want to go there?

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

TWELVE Plus: Saddleback’s 2012 Online Small Group Conference

Looking for a great conference focusing on small group ministry?  I can’t tell you how often I’m asked to recommend a conference that is designed for small group ministry leaders from the ground up.  Several times a week at a minimum.  What do I tell them?  The best thing going in terms of content and cost is TWELVE Plus: Saddleback’s online small group conference.  Period.

May 16 & 17.  Three tracks (Essentials, Experience, and Planning).  Many of the most knowledgeable small group ministry practitioners.  Tremendous application potential.  And it can be had for as low as $50!  That is a great deal!

Couple things to know immediately:

First, you’ve got to register by March 30, 2o12 to take advantage of the lowest pricing.  At $50 this is a great value by itself.  In addition to the two day conference, you’ll have access to the content for 30 days after!  That’s huge.  You can find out more or register right here.

Second, Group licenses are available and could be a phenomenal way to develop staff and volunteer teams.  On top of that, you can pick up an area license and open up the conference to the other churches in the area.  Don’t miss out on the opportunity.   You can learn about these opportunities right here.

Here’s a link to everything else you’d like to know about TWELVE Plus: the Global Online Gathering for Small Group Ministries and Ministry Leaders.  I can’t say enough about it.  Will I see you there?


What Story Do You Want to Tell?

I don’t often ask you to do this, but today I really want to encourage you to try an experiment with me.  It’s a three step experiment.

Here’s the first step:  I want you to try and think ahead to next year at this time.  Imagine yourself one year from now.  Maybe you’re sitting in the same office chair or the same patio chair at Starbucks.

Can you do it?  Can you see yourself, one year in the future?  That’s the first step…but it’s just the beginning.

The second step, so important, is to think about all that happened over the last year.  Remember…you’re one year in the future from now.  Can you see yourself there? Can you think back and begin to see all the things that happened…over the last year.

The third step, and this is the key to the exercise, is to think about the story you’d like to tell about what happened in the last year.  Can you see what thinking this way might make possible?  Be as descriptive as you can.  Pull a team into the discussion if you’d like.  Get off by yourself if it helps.  Either way, think about the detailed story you’d like to tell about what happened in the last year.  By the way, this is preferred future kind of thinking.

Got it?  Can you picture it?  Can you describe it?  This is soooo important!

As you know by now, I love a great question.  I was listening to the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast over the weekend, doing my best to beat my time for a three mile walk, and almost stopped in my tracks when I heard Andy’s question.  Here’s the question that Andy asked:

What story do I want to tell?  …when this is in the rear view mirror…what story do I want to tell?  Courage in Leadership

I love that question!  It immediately made sense to imagine myself at some point down the road, telling the story of what happened at Canyon Ridge in the fall of 2012.  I can see it.  I can imagine the number of groups that launched.  I can see the faces of the hosts who invited neighbors and friends to join their group.  I can easily imagine the weekend as new believers are baptized with their group members cheering them on.  I can imagine the stories being told in group after group about “how different our families are since Jesus became real to us.”

What story do I want to tell?  I want to tell the story of how Las Vegas is different because of the way God used hundreds of new hosts who invited friends and family, neighbors and co-workers to join in a simple study of a life-changing idea.

What story do you want to tell?  And will you do the things that lead to there?  You can.  It begins the moment you begin to rehearse the story you want to tell.

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