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Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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How to Make Next Steps Easier to Choose

I’ve written about the importance of providing next steps that are easy, obvious, and strategic (see Think Steps, Not Programs and Making GroupLife On-Ramps Easy, Obvious, and Strategic).  I’ve pointed out that we need to build strategies that feature next steps for everyone in your ministry and first steps for their friends.  And I’ve ranted about the fact that a plated meal (versus a buffet) leads to a church OF groups.

If you’ve been along for much of this journey…you’ve probably read several of these posts.  If you haven’t, I’d encourage you to go back and familiarize yourself with the ideas in them.

I want to encourage you to watch this short TED presentation by Sheena Iyengar called How to Make Choosing Easier.  Best known for her work on the phenomenon known as choice overload, Iyengar has delivered a real gift here for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.  What she’s talking about has application for all of us.  If only we’ll listen.

Can’t see the video?  You can watch it right here.

Do You Know this Connection Secret?

I probably shouldn’t call it a secret.  But did you know that a tiny little detail can add vast new understanding about which strategy will connect the largest number of people?  In fact, I’m beginning to think that misunderstanding this little detail leads to more connection misfires than anything else.

What’s the detail?  If you want to connect unconnected people, you need to understand their lifestyle, priorities, and pressures.  They’re different, you know.  If you’re trying to connect everyone with a one-size-fits-all approach, you’ll be disappointed.  Thankfully, you can solve for a solution with this simple practice:

Begin by forming an opinion about the people who are already connected in a group.  Specifically, begin thinking about what kinds of members of the core, committed and congregation (to use the Saddleback concentric circles) are already in a group.  The better you can begin to describe them (their lifestyle, priorities, families, etc.), the easier it will be to form some conclusions.

Although there will be a range of personalities, you should be able to begin to draw some common themes.  This is very important and worth spending time working through.

Next, begin forming an opinion about the people who are not connected in a group.  Specifically, think about the members of the congregation and the crowd who are unconnected.  As you wrestle with this exercise, you should begin to be able to recognize their priorities, lifestyle, pressures, etc.

Now, begin thinking about the ways that these two groups are different.  They’ll have some similarities.  There will be some things that they share in common.  The secret though, is in their differences.  Once you understand their differences, it ought to impact your connecting strategies, the studies you choose to launch groups, and the topics of the church-wide campaigns you select.

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

Design Your Ministry for Results

Small group ministry struggling to meet the objectives you’ve set?  Ending the ministry year and falling short of the goals that have been set for you?  Although there are a number of possible explanations, the most likely reason is that your ministry isn’t actually designed to accomplish the goals and objectives you’d like to reach.  If you want that to change, you need to design your ministry for results.

An Important Disclaimer: I realize that God makes things grow.  And you should, too.  This is not about that.  This is about our role in designing the ministry for results (and we do play a part).

Design your ministry for results.  Sounds more complicated than it really is.  Here’s what I mean.

First, understand the direct link between your results and your ministry design.  Don’t miss the fact that design and outcome are absolutely related.  Can’t find enough leaders?  Don’t blame the culture or the times.  In the same way a field of corn only grows according to a farmer’s goals and objectives when the conditions are right (rainfall, sunshine, rich soil, temperature, etc.), your ministry will only grow when environmental conditions are right.

Second, carefully analyze each of the environmental elements that affect small group ministry.  Here are a few of the most important elements:

  • Choice: If there are multiple options for the next step, don’t be surprised when unconnected people are indecisive.  Research has shown that there is a negative impact to too many choices.  Watch Sheena Iyengar’s TED talk on choice overload for more on this topic.  Prescription: Start a “stop doing list” and make a commitment to purposeful abandonment.  “To call abandonment an opportunity may come as a surprise.  Yet planned, purposeful abandonment of the old and of the unrewarding is a prerequisite pursuit of the new and highly promising.  Above all, abandonment is the key to innovation–both because it frees the necessary resources and because it stimulates the search for the new that will replace the old”  (p. 33, Inside Drucker’s Brain).
  • Priorities and emphasis: If your culture is designed to promote every option equally, don’t be surprised when your most connected people are confused and overcommitted and your least connected people are unresponsive.  Fuzzy priorities delay action.  Prescription: Choose which option gets promoted.  Demand intentionality.
  • Expectations: We’re living in a time that would be completely foreign to our great grandparents.  Schedules.  Cost-of-living.  Mobility.  Extracurricular activities for children.  If you’re waiting for unconnected people to make the first move, adjusting their way of life to fit yours…you’ll be waiting a long time.  Prescription: Make it possible for a baby step in the right direction as a first move.  Remember, when you think steps not programs you’ll design easy, obvious and strategic.

Third, make the changes you know must be made.  Once you understand the design issues that are determining your results, begin implementing.  Don’ t underestimate the tendency to search for a problem-free solution.  How should you implement change?  Fast?  Slow?  All at once?  Over time?  Your culture and history will determine that.  The key is to move forward.

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

Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow

If you’re looking for discipleship resources that will give direction to your approach, Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow by Eric Geiger, Michael Kelley and Philip Nation ought to be on your reading list.

A research driven project, the book is based on the discoveries of an extensive research project launched by Lifeway in 2010 “to survey believers about their spiritual lives and level of maturity.” Specifically, the research was designed “to uncover what kind of discipleship is truly transformational.”  Building on the Transformational Church survey and the research behind Brad Waggoner’s book The Shape of Faith to Come, the research focused on “major areas of life where spiritual maturity takes place.”

The combined research identified eight attributes of discipleship that point to spiritual health; biblical factors that consistently show up in the life of a maturing believer.  The eight attributes are:

  1. Bible Engagement
  2. Obeying God and Denying Self
  3. Serving God and Others
  4. Sharing Christ
  5. Exercising Faith
  6. Seeking God
  7. Building Relationships
  8. Unashamed

In addition to the eight attributes, a key discovery of the research is referred to as the Transformational Sweet Spot.  Using the metaphor of the sweet spot on a tennis racket or a baseball bat, the transformational sweet spot is formed by the intersection of truth given by healthy leaders to someone in a vulnerable posture.

There are a number of very good aspects to Transformational Discipleship.  The first 63 pages provide a thorough theological overview of the concept.  This is essential reading for a church staff or leadership team.  Parts 1, 2, and 3 provide an insight packed examination of the individual ingredients of the transformational sweet spot.

Not intended as a model, the authors instead have assembled the kind of thinking that just might uncover the framework that makes authentic disciples; not just knowledge or moral behavior, but the “ongoing renewal of the heart.”  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Transformational Discipleship is resource that will absolutely open your eyes to new ways of thinking about how transformation happens and where to focus your design and effort.

Dilbert on Feedback

Ever get sent to gather feedback?

Help Your Groups Become People of the Second Chance

Looking for a simple study that can help your small groups take a big step? A few weeks back I noticed that my friends over at People of a Second Chance had produced a DVD-Driven study based on founder Mike Foster’s powerful little book, Gracenomics.  They provided a review copy for me to check out, and let me tell you, you need to add this simple study to your recommended list!

Several things come together to make this a great opportunity.  First, this is a topic and a presentation that will help give a new perspective to group members.  Imagine the impact of a group that unleashes radical grace everyday, in every moment, for everyone!

Second, this four session study is really easy to use.  The DVD segments are short, simply done and feature Mike Foster.  The study guide has a very simple design and will help your groups focus on the topic.  Although it’s not essential for participation in the study, Mike’s book Gracenomics is both easy reading and powerfully inspirational; an interesting combination.

Third, right now the beta version of the study is available virtually free!  You can find out about this offer right here.

There’s a lot to really like about the Gracenomics study.  I found it both inspring and personally challenging and I think you will too!

These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For

Sometimes a line develops an iconic stature.  Can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”  Even waved my hand just like Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Always draws a smile or a look of recognition.  Doesn’t have to fit exactly.  I’m rarely challenged to defend its meaning.  Serves as a cultural bridge to let people know that I know what’s going on.  It’s harmless.

Other times a line becomes so familiar that we say it without acknowledging what it really means.

A church where nobody stands alone.”  Philosophically?  Or actually?  Imagine what that would mean if it were lived out.

The optimum environment for life-change is a small group.”  Idealistically?  Or actually?  What would have to be true about a small group for that line to be anything more than a line?

Everyone needs to be cared for by someone but no one can take care of more than ten.”  Words that influence our care structure?  Or fantasy?

Whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members has to happen first in the life of the leader.”  Truth?  Or fiction?  Does what you’re delivering in the way of experience indicate that you really believe it?

Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from not being around.”  Actually?  Or figuratively?  Has it changed or influenced your practice?

What do you think?  Have a line you use that you want to share?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

5 Keys to Avoiding a Church-Wide Campaign Disaster

Want to connect more people this fall than ever before?  Start a big wave of new small groups?  Reach your community?  Take your congregation on a faith-deepening journey?

Maybe you’re already thinking this way, but there is nothing more powerful than a well-conceived, well-executed church-wide campaign.  Nothing else even comes close.  Nothing.

Still…not every church-wide campaign delivers.  For every home run there’s probably a few foul balls and a strike out with the bases loaded.  Everyone wants to hit a home run.  No one walks to the plate hoping to just make contact.  Everyone desperately hopes to avoid striking out.

5 Keys to Avoiding a Church-Wide Campaign Disaster

  1. Choose a topic that connects with the people you hope to connect.  This might seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you the number of church-wide campaign autopsies where the main finding is that a topic was chosen that only appealed to the usual suspects.  You’ll find additional help in How to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign and Who Are You Trying to Connect?
  2. Focus the promotional spotlight on the upcoming campaign (and only the campaign).  This is often at the heart of campaigns that miss.  If you want to hit a home run, you cannot promote options.  You can’t promote the buffet.  If you want to maximize the impact of the campaign, you need to give your full attention to recruiting hosts in August and then turn around and give your full attention to challenging every member to participate in September.  You’ll find additional help in How to Sequence a Small Group Launch and  HOST Recruitment and the Launch Sequence.
  3. Keep your senior pastor in the role of small group champion.  Few moves are as disastrous as allowing your senior pastor to delegate this role to you or anyone else.  If you want to recruit the largest number of hosts, your pastor needs to make the host ask several times in August (in the sermon and not just an announcement).  If you want to involve the largest number of people, your pastor needs to be the one challenging everyone to be part of group that’s using the curriculum that goes along with the message series.  You’ll find additional help in Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups and 5 Things Senior Pastors Need to Know about Small Group Ministry.
  4. Help the largest number of new groups get off to a good start.  It’s one thing to have a landslide response to the host ask.  It’s another thing entirely to have a healthy percentage of your newest groups get off to a good start.  Great communication is one of the biggest keys to helping the largest number of new hosts get started.  Another important key is providing the right training and encouragement out of the gate.  You’ll find additional help in Recruiting Additional Launch-Phase Coaches for Church-Wide Campaigns, Clarifying the Win for Launch-Phase Coaches,  Host Orientations that Launch Groups, Host Orientations that Work, and Breaking: Add This Host Orientation Idea to Your Bag of Tricks.
  5. Sustain as many of the new groups as possible.  So much energy goes into a church-wide campaign that it’s very common to just breathe a sigh of relief when the launch is over and the groups are beginning to meet.  Don’t take a breath yet!  Staying focused on helping your new groups continue meeting (if they choose to) by providing an easy next step into a next study really pays off when done correctly.  You’ll find additional help in 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups and What’s Next? When and How to Promote the Next Curriculum.

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

New from David Platt: The Radical Small Group Study

One of the most challenging books in the last several years has been David Platt’s Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.  What made it so challenging?  Radical began with a great question, “What if Jesus actually meant what he said?”  When the dust cleared on the book, readers had been challenged “to abandon everything for the sake of the gospel, take up their crosses, and follow Christ.”

Platt is the lead pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, and one of the most dynamic young communicators in America.  Whether you’ve heard him before or this is your first time, you’ll not soon forget the power of this message or the conviction of this messenger.

There are several components to this small group Bible study.  First, while this is a DVD-driven study, it is anchored by a very thoughtfully designed member book that provides an experience that goes well beyond the meeting.  In addition to a viewer guide makes it easy to follow Platt’s teaching, a very good set of discussion questions will help members begin to engage in the content. Reinforcing the experience of the group meeting, each of the sessions are supported by five daily studies that will take participants even deeper into Jesus’ teaching and the call to His first century challenge.

The DVD segments represent some of the most compelling teaching I’ve ever reviewed.  With footage taken from a message series at The Church at Brook Hills, I found myself reminded of certain eyewitness accounts of certain communicators during the time of the Great Awakening.  Averaging just over 30 minutes, these segments will easily hold members’ attention.  Members may find themselves searching for an easier explanation but they won’t find their minds wandering.  So compelling is the message, I found myself glued to the screen.

In addition to the member book and the DVD, the Radical Small Group Study – DVD Kit also includes a number of other resources:

  • Radical (a paperback copy of the 2010 book)
  • Radical Together (Platt’s follow up to Radical; written to speak directly to groups)
  • Downloadable sermon outlines
  • Downloadable worship suggestions
  • Downloadable prayer experiences

If your groups are looking for a challenge,  the Radical Small-Group Study may be just the ticket.  This is an extremely powerful study.  In many ways it deserves a warning label (something like “Caution: Messages inside this box are more powerful and more dangerous than they appear.  Leave unopened only at your own risk.”).  I highly recommend it.  Not for the faint of heart but just might be the medicine you’ve been looking for.

Prefer to buy from Lifeway?  You can do that right here.

Quotebook: Irrelevance

I have a love/hate relationship with these two paragraphs from Marketing Myopia, Theodore Levitt’s classic 1960 Harvard Business Review article.  Noting Detroit’s struggles (in 1960) he wrote:

The industry has hitched its fortune to the relentless requirements of the annual model change, a policy that makes customer orientation an especially urgent necessity. Consequently, the auto companies annually spend millions of dollars on consumer research. But the fact that the new compact cars are selling so well in their first year indicates that Detroit’s vast researches have for a long time failed to reveal what customers really wanted. Detroit was not convinced that people wanted anything different from what they had been getting until it lost millions of customers to other small-car manufacturers.

How could this unbelievable lag behind consumer wants have been perpetuated for so long? Why did not research reveal consumer preferences before consumers’ buying decisions themselves revealed the facts? Is that not what consumer research is for—to find out before the fact what is going to happen? The answer is that Detroit never really researched customers’ wants. It only researched their preferences between the kinds of things it had already decided to offer them. For Detroit is mainly product oriented, not customer oriented.

Oh my.  How many of us are really paying attention to what our customers are actually asking for?  Or like Detroit in the 1960s, are we continuing to produce what has already been voted off the island; scratching our heads wondering why our product no longer sells?

In many ways Levitt was an unheard voice crying out in the wilderness.  You can’t read him now without seeing the halogen handwriting on the wall.  Calls to mind the great line from Eric Shineski, Former Chief of Staff, United States Army:

“If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.”

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