Top 10 Posts of September, 2011

In case you missed them, here are my top 1o posts of September, 2011.  As usual, this month’s top 10 is a blend of brand new content along with timely posts from my archives (including posts from May, 2008; August, 2009; June, 2010; and September, 2010).

I noticed two very interesting factoids (at least to me).

  • First, although I published 22 new posts in September, a total of 621 (out of my over 700) posts were viewed at least once.  How’s that for a long tail?
  • Second, I had visitors from 73 countries!  I love that!  Thanks for stopping by!

Here are my top 1o posts:

  1. 10 Essential Small Group Leader Skills
  2. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection
  3. Everything Works Better Connected| Great Video from North Coast
  4. Review: Not a Fan
  5. Courageous: A New Church-Wide Campaign (Based on the Movie)
  6. Top 5 Advantages of New Small Groups
  7. Start with the End in Mind
  8. Four Questions That Will Inspire Breakthrough Thinking
  9. Ben Reed’s Latest Learning
  10. What’s the Best Way for People to Sign Up and Commit to a Group?

Add This Exercise to Your Innovation Toolkit

I don’t know about you, but I love a good group exercise that will get a team talking about the way things are going.  As we’ve talked about recently, it’s one thing to vaguely know that you’re not where you need to be.  It’s an entirely different thing to acknowledge the truth about where you actually are.

I was at a Leadership Network Innovation Lab this week and was introduced to a great exercise.  Just knew you’d want to add it to your innovation toolkit.  Here’s how it works:

Start by identifying a process that is part of the way your ministry functions.  For example, you might think about the way you identify and recruit potential coaches.

In the stop quadrant, you’ll write down the aspects of your process that you know is not working and you just need to stop.

In the start quadrant, write down any new methods or ideas that you want to start.

In the tweak quadrant, write down steps that are working but aspects that need to be adjusted or changed slightly.

In the continue quadrant, write down the aspects of your current process that are working and just need to be kept intact.

The value is in thinking through the quadrants and talking about what fits where.

Which Customer Is Your Ministry Designed to Connect?

customer designed to connectI know what you’re thinking.  When you read my question, you really want to say, “This is a business question or a marketing question.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “Our ministry is designed to connect everyone.”

Believe me…I get that.  I do.  In fact, one of my proudest ministry moments is the development of our ministry statement: “We want to provide next steps for every Parkview adult and first steps for their friends.”  Sounds like we hope to connect everyone…doesn’t it?

But we realize, and you need to realize, that it really doesn’t work that way.  We wish it would.  But it doesn’t.  And it can’t.

Just like restaurants decide who they want to attract and home builders decide who they want to sell to…you have to decide who your ministry is designed to connect.

Oh…there are definitely restaurants and home builders who try to please more than one customer.  They just discover that it doesn’t work that way.  Usually right about the time they go out of business.

Three Possible Customers

I believe it is like this.  If you think about your church in the sense of the diagram to the left, you can see that there really are three possible connection customers.  There are the folks who are already connected (represented by the square in the middle).  There are the folks in the circle (representing the people in your congregation and crowd who aren’t already connected).  And then, there’s the group outside the circle (representing the community).

I want you to understand a critically important concept.  When you choose curriculum for a church-wide campaign or a small group connection you need to pay close attention to the topic, the length of the study, the title, really everything about it.  And you really need to choose it to meet the needs of the people you are hoping to connect.  Not the people who are already connected.

Let me tell you one last thing though.  When you choose customers it won’t make everyone happy.  G.K. Chesterton’s line notwithstanding, not everyone really believes that “the church is the only institution that exists solely for the benefit of non-members.”

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

Image by Esther Dyson

Innovation Step Two: Become a Student, Not a Critic

Once you’ve acknowledged what’s not working, you need to take another step.  You need to become a student.  You need to become a learner.  Of everything.  Or maybe, almost everything.

Now…I have to tell you, it will not come naturally.  Most of us are far more comfortable being a critic.  We come fully equipped with an opinion about what we don’t like about this or that.  But we need to get comfortable with being a student.

Why?  Easy.  If what we already knew how to do was 100% effective…wouldn’t we have already reached our goal?  Think about it.  If what you were already doing and if the way you were already doing it was really the very best strategy and implementation…wouldn’t you be having wild success right now?

I think you see what I mean…right?

My recent series about Latest Learnings is based on this concept.  The reason I read what I do and ask the questions I do is based on two understandings.  First…I know that I don’t know everything.  Second, I’m hopeful that the next thing I trip across will be the learning that enables us to reach the widening 60% that are unreachable with the attractional model.

Now…I want you to know that I didn’t come up with this principle.  I got this from Andy Stanley and it is an essential understanding.  In Stanley’s Recent Random Thoughts on Leadership, he pointed out that “The next generation product almost never comes from the previous generation ( Al Ries, Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It).”  You can hear Andy’s talk right here.

Know what that means?  You’re right!  It means that you need to pay attention to what’s happening outside of your comfort zone.  You need to pay close attention to what’s happening nearby.  You need to ask questions.  You need to take notes.  You need to argue.  You need to…well, you need to become a student…not a critic.

Dilbert on “Transformational Change”

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just need to laugh!

5 Keys to Getting Everyone Involved in a Church-Wide Campaign

everyone involved crowdHad a great question in my recent post on the biggest problems facing your grouplife system.  Wendy noted that:

“We’re having trouble getting people new to our church to join a group…How can we get them into a group?”

That is a great question…and a very important one.  But before I give you something to chew on, I need to add a little piece of information that will provide some perspective.  Here goes…

First, most churches have already connected the folks that are already genetically drawn to community.  Know what I’m saying?  Let’s just say that there is a certain type of person who will start a group if there isn’t one and join one if there is.  You know the type.  But they represent a relatively small part of most congregations.  Maybe 20 to 30%.

Second, really only the exceptional churches have connected beyond 50 to 80% of their weekend adult attendance.  Right?  There are the occasional North Coasts that have regularly connected at the 80% level.  And then there is Saddleback that has blown through the 100% and at last report had crossed the 130% barrier.

Third, a little basic math tells us that most churches have connected somewhere south of 80% and more than 20%.  So, in all likelihood we really need to be talking about how to to connect the middle 50 to 60% in a church-wide campaign.  With me?  Here are 5 keys to getting everyone involved:

5 Keys to Getting Everyone Involved

  1. Getting everyone involved begins with your senior pastor.  There’s no getting around this.  Connecting everyone involves your senior pastor talking about the importance of being in a group every week.  When you’re launching a church-wide campaign, be sure your pastor is emphasizing the importance of “being part of a group that’s using the curriculum that goes along with the weekend message.”  See also Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups
  2. Few things are as convincing as a well-placed testimony (live or video) of a satisfied customer.  When you’ve made the host ask and have finished recruiting, it’s time to flip the switch and let the power of testimony make your case.  See also How to Develop Video Testimony That Recruits Leaders or Members
  3. Make sure your announcements, website, newsletter, etc., are all making it crystal clear that joining a group is easy!  “Stop by the small group booth.”  “It’s easy to use the small group finder on our website.”  See also Narrowing the Focus Leads to a Church OF Groups
  4. Keep in mind that your average adult attendance is made up of a different group every weekend (i.e., if your church is like most churches…your members and attendees come 1 to 4 times a month).  That is why you need to make the “join a group” appeal two or three weeks in a row.  See also Why You Must Make the HOST Ask Several Weeks in a Row
  5. Leverage all-church email combined with an easy to use web-based group-finder (like ChurchTeams).  When you have both technologies working, it makes it easy to connect folks that to get the word out broadly.  Once you’ve set up your open groups on an easy-to-use small group finder, send out an all-church email from your senior pastor that says “click here to join a group near you.”  See also Technology: Tools That Enhance GroupLife

There’s a lot more to this than I can include in a single post, but I hope this has given you a few ideas.  You’ll find some additional ideas in my post How to Connect Members to Groups

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

Image by James Cridland

Always True: God’s Promises When Life Is Hard

Looking for a study that will take your group deep into God’s word?  Always True: God’s Promises When Life Is Hard is one you ought to take a look at.  A DVD-driven study by James MacDonald, provides both a powerful group learning experience along with a challenging and encouraging personal daily assignments.  Published by Lifeway, this is a very engaging study.

One of America’s most popular Bible teachers, MacDonald is the founding/senior pastor of Chicago’s Harvest Bible Chapel. host of the radio show “Walk in the Word,” and author of several books and Bible studies, including “Gripped by the Greatness of God,” “Ancient Wisdom,” and most recently “When Life Is Hard.”

The DVD in this six session study is a combination of teaching recorded live in weekend worship services at Harvest Bible Chapel and studio inserts providing additional insight.  It’s important to note that each of the sessions are 40 to 45 minutes long.

The Member Book provides everything needed for participants.  A short set of discussion questions are included to prompt discussion of the DVD teaching.  Fill-in-the-blank pages encourage detailed note-taking during the teaching segments.  Five daily assignments follow each of the weekly teaching segments providing personal learning and encouragement.  It should be noted that each of the daily assignments are several pages long with multiple scripture references, questions to work through, and exercises to be completed.

While Always True can be used in individual small groups, it might be more suitable for a weekly Bible study.  Although some groups can benefit from an extended DVD presentation, at 40 to 45 minutes, Always True provides an experience that is very much like attending a service together and then taking a few minutes immediately afterwards to talk about what you’ve just learned.  This can provide the content for a two hour meeting complete with fellowship time, solid Bible teaching, and discussion.

If you’re looking for resources for groups or studies that are craving solid teaching, Always True is a study you should add to your recommended curriculum.

What To Do…When You Wake Up in the Future

Today I want to string together three statements to help you start a conversation that will shift your ministry from hum drum to impact.  It will only start the conversation…but it is a necessary beginning.

Here’s the first statement

In one of the greatest insights that Peter Drucker ever dropped on all of us ordinary thinkers…he said,

“The important thing is to identify “the future that has already happened“–and to develop the methodology for perceiving and analyzing these changes.”

This is genius.  It reflects the reality that the thing you think might happen someday, in another town far, far away…has really already happened where you are!

Question: Could that help explain why many small group ministries cling to a system or strategy designed to meet the needs of its current members (the usual suspects) but struggles to connect beyond 30% of the average weekly adult worship attendance?

Two Additional Statements

In When Growth Stalls, a really helpful article over at HBR, authors Olson, Van Bever, and Verry share some powerful ideas about the assumptions that drive organizations.  Their research examined a large sample of leading corporations with two things in common:

  1. They had been experiencing dynamic growth over an extended period of time.  They were the kinds of companies we’d think of as market leaders.
  2. They had suddenly stalled out and entered a steep decline.  Most of the time their stall was unrecoverable.

In their research they discovered two common threads that all companies shared:

  1. They held assumptions about the way the world worked that were out of step with the way it really worked.
  2. Some of their longest held assumptions proved to be their undoing.

The authors developed two keys for companies that wished to avoid the stall point:

  • Bring underlying assumptions that drive company strategy into line with the changes in the external environment.
  • Recognize that assumptions that a team has held the longest or the most deeply are the most likely to be its undoing.

Need an example of an assumption that affects small group ministry?  How about these:

  • Potential group leaders need to be members of a group first.
  • Potential group leaders need to be members of our church.
  • Apprenticing and birthing new groups from existing groups will provide the new groups we need to connect our entire congregation.

Takeaway: All of us need to recognize that we are not in Kansas anymore (unless you are actually in Kansas!).  The world in 2011 is a very different place right now (as opposed to will be a very different place).  And right now is the time to carefully examine the assumptions that drive your ministry.

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

Need help?  Sometimes a pair of fresh eyes and a strategic outsider can help.  Click here to find out about my consulting and coaching services.

What’s the Biggest Problem Facing Your GroupLife System?

When you think about your small group ministry…what’s the biggest problem you face?  Can you say it out loud?  Is it one you’d be willing to share?

I’d love to see if it’s one I can help with!

Want to share?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Is It Time for a System Update?

Finding yourself unable to break through certain grouplife barriers?  Maybe you can’t find enough leaders?  Or try as you might, you just can’t start enough new groups to keep up with the number of people looking for a group?

It could be that you’re using a system that just isn’t designed to do what you’re trying to do.

How could that be?  Aren’t all small group systems or strategies really just different ways of doing the same thing?

Think about Telephones

I’ve found that sometimes a concept is easier to really

grasp when you switch fields for just a moment. For example, you might not go back far enough to remember using a telephone like this one.  But you probably remember something earlier than what you have now.

Do you remember rotary dial phones?  The ones you could actually dial?  Do you remember when push button phones replaced rotary?

Do you remember when slimline telephones began to replace the big clunkers?  What about cordless phones?

Do you remember the first cell phones?  They were the size of a shoe!  They were the size of shoe phone!

Today’s Telephone Technology

We dropped our land line two weeks ago.  Don’t need it.  Never used it.  The only people calling were charities exempt from the “do not call” list!

Everyone else was calling on the cell phone!

GroupLife Systems

Every week I talk with folks who are scratching their heads, trying to figure out why they’re stuck at a certain number of groups or a certain percentage connected.

What’s easy to see when you’re talking telephones…is sometimes just harder to see when you’re talking about small group systems.

Few of us would expect to use this old Motorola cell phone to surf the web or come equipped with a built-in GPS system.  We’d know intuitively that our iTunes music is not in there anywhere.

But when it comes to small group ministry…it’s just not obvious that a system dependent on apprenticing can’t quickly connect a congregation.  It just not obvious that there might be large numbers of competent shepherds willing to open their home and host a group…if the teaching could be supplied via a DVD.  You might be connecting the usual suspects over and over and never see that it’s the way your system is designed that makes that happen.

Sometimes it takes the fresh eyes of a strategic outsider to help you identify a system update that will help you break through a barrier.  I’d love to help you…and you can find out how to schedule a coaching call or set up a consulting visit right here.