The Question Everyone Ought to Be Asking

As you know…there are no problem-free strategies or solutions.  Every strategy, every solution comes with a set of problems.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, 5 Strategic Flaws That Cripple Ministry Impact.

With me?

Once you come to the conclusion that there are no problem-free strategies or solutions, the very next step is to begin determining goals and objectives based on your mission (or the business you are in).  Once you’ve set goals and objectives based on your mission, it’s time to determine the best way to accomplish your goals and objectives.  This is about the model or the program you will choose to use.  See also, Supercharge Your Ministry with These 5 Questions.

What is the best way to _____________?  Fill in the blank with whatever your goal or objective is.  For example:

  • What is the best way to connect everyone to a small group?
  • What is the best way to help everyone find a way to serve that fits their unique shape?
  • What is the best way to help everyone overcome the me-first self-centered view that is so common?
  • Etc.

What is the best way to ____________?

Have you learned to ask this question?  Or are you still stuck with legacy models and strategies?  You know what I mean by legacy models, right?  Think about the programs you’re still using that were installed in another era.  Good examples might be Wednesday or Sunday night programing.  Others would be Monday night visitation and Sunday morning programs that are designed to disciple or connect adults (but in many cases are really smaller versions of the weekend service).

Nothing Wrong with Legacy

Listen, there is rarely anything inherently wrong with a legacy model or strategy.  Asking what is the best way to __________? simply uncovers…wait for it…the best way to ___________.  And that is the point.  Right?

Why Don’t We Ask the Question?

What is the best way to ___________?

Why don’t we ask the question?  Too often we don’t ask the question because:

Have You Asked the Question?

Have you asked the question?  Why not?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Top 10 Reasons Leprechauns Rarely Join a Small Group

Threave Castle

Courtesy Steven Lewis

Today bein’ St. Patrick’s Day ‘n all, I thought it might be somthin’ fine to talk about some of the reasons Leprechauns rarely join a small group.

  1. Who really wants to share the pot of gold?  Very few leprechauns are others-centered.
  2. Much too busy.  Most leprechauns spend all of their time making shoes.  What leprechaun actually has the time to hang out on a regular basis?
  3. Lucky Charms may be magically delicious, but they’re almost never the snack of choice in a small group.
  4. One exception to the rule seems to be found in Darby O’Gill and the Little People (although the leprechaun king’s group was really more of a mid-size group).
  5. Leprechauns are very picky about who they will hang out with.  Everyone knows that a leprechaun would rather climb a tree than spend time with strangers.  See also, The Leprechaun in Mobile, Alabama.  HT Huffington Post.
  6. Apparently when leprechaun’s are interested in a small group they will only join a men’s small group…since there are no female leprechauns.  The one exception is when Jennifer Aniston is the leader of a co-ed group.  See also, Jennifer Aniston’s Big Screen Debut.
  7. It ain’t easy being a Notre Dame fan.  Just imagine being the mascot!
  8. They know we’ve all had it up to here with practical jokers.  Although many of us enjoy playing practical jokes…few of us enjoy having them played on us.  It’s hard to build true community when your car is not where you left it every time your group meets.
  9. Turns out a leprechaun’s greatest fear isn’t public speaking.  It’s being held captive…in your living room!
  10. Your church’s ban on drinking alcohol during small group meetings.  Just ain’t working for the lil guy in the green coat (Thanks to Thom Emery for #10). 

Have one to add?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.


Dilbert on Hiring the Right People

Sometimes you just have to laugh.  Or you need to laugh.  Either way…this is a funny one.

mental problems

Would You Rather: Connect More People or Eliminate Risk?

If you had to choose, would you rather connect more people or eliminate risk?

Don’t you hate a proposition like that?  But if you think about it, it’s really the premise behind the childhood game.  Two choices.  Choose which of the choices you’d rather make.  See also, Would You Rather: Connect More People or Make More Disciples?

Important to understand though, that this is a real choice that all of us make.  In this case the real question is would you rather connect more people (by lowering the bar in terms of what it takes to lead a group) or connect fewer people (as a result of a higher bar of leadership without the risk that some of some percentage of group leaders not being up to the highest standards)?

Fun to think about, right?  Actually, all of make this choice or one like it all the time.  You may not spell it out this way, but you still make this choice.

How would you answer the question?  Would you rather connect more people or eliminate risk?

Here’s how I answer: I’d rather connect more people knowing that for every 100 groups I start I may have two led by ax murderers and another two who end up doing The Secret.  If 96 out of 100 don’t have issues like that, aren’t I way ahead?  Haven’t I just connected something like 960 people?

When I make this choice, three factors enter into the equation for me:

  1. I like connecting 960 people.  See also, Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar or Open Bar?
  2. I want to do what I can to protect the 40 who end up with the ax murderers and Oprah fans.
  3. I am certain that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at my church again.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People?

What do you think?  How do you land on this question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Amazed and Confused: A Great New Book (and Study) by Heather Zempel

amazed and confusedI might as well get this out of the way.  You are going to want your own copy of Amazed and Confused.  In my experience, it really doesn’t matter what Heather Zempel is writing about or talking about…I want to read it again or hear it again.  That’s just always been my experience.  And this time is no exception.  Beyond that, you’re going to think of small groups that really need to do this study!

Heather Zempel is the discipleship pastor at National Community Church in Washington DC where she oversees small groups, directs leadership development training and serves on the weekend teaching team.  With a background that includes a masters degree in biological engineering and a stint as a policy consultant on energy and the environment in the United States Senate, her writing and teaching is always packed with incredibly memorable examples.

Amazed and Confused: When God’s Actions Collide with Our Expectations is a fascinating look at the Old Testament book of Habakkuk.  If you find it hard to believe that an exploration of Habakkuk could be fascinating, you are not alone.  One of the more minor minor prophets, I didn’t know a lot about him or his season as a prophet when I cracked open the book.  Now?  Amazed and Confused opened my eyes to some powerful truths about God.  I think more importantly, I discovered a story that the people in our small groups need to know.

An important aspect of Amazed and Confused is that every chapter ends with a great set of small group discussion questions.  Heather’s writing style is very engaging, so group members will find themselves pulled along.  And the questions are the sort that an experienced curriculum writer would design.  Very well done!

When I opened the book, I thought what I would enjoy most about the book was the way profound truths were unveiled, illustrated with classically memorable Zempel tales (there was a doozy involving a sinkhole).  What I ended up appreciating the most?  Without a doubt, what I appreciated the most was the sense that I had just heard the story of Habakkuk from someone who knew him cover to cover.

Whether you’re just looking for a book that will encourage you personally, or you’re on the lookout for a book study that your small groups would find helpful and engaging, I highly recommend Amazed and Confused.  I loved it and I think you will 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 may receive an affiliate commission. In addition, I am a 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.”

A Smörgåsbord of Destinations vs Sequential and Tailored Next Steps

2615802457_48ec34f708_zHow would you describe your church?  How would you describe the collection of ministries of your church?  Particularly your ministries and programs designed to meet the needs of adults?

I’m always looking for ways to better describe a phenomenon that occurs naturally in churches everywhere.  I sometimes refer to this phenomenon as the Smörgåsbord of Destinations.  Can you see already what I’m talking about?  Or do you need a little help?  See also, A “Plated” Meal Leads to a Church OF Groups.

A smörgåsbord of destinations occurs when ministries and programs are encouraged (or allowed) even though they aren’t a step that leads anywhere you want people to go.  For example, you have difficulty saying no so you make space available for a class that is an opportunity for adults to learn more about the Bible.  Not bad unless the class becomes more like a club for sponges that never get squeezed out (i.e., no one is really applying what they’re learning…they’re just learning).

Or maybe you made space available for a marriage 101 class that over time became an opportunity for marriage groupies to hang out and study the latest marriage curriculum.  Not really an opportunity to go out and share what they’re learning.  More about benefitting from than contributing to.  And to top it off, it often comes at the expense of leading a group or being a member in a group.

A smörgåsbord of destinations.

Sequential and Tailored Next Steps

Contrast the smörgåsbord idea with a set of sequential and tailored next steps.  They lead in the direction you want everyone to go.  They lead only in the direction you want everyone to go.

These next steps are designed to pull unconnected people from the anonymity of the auditorium into a next step that is specifically tailored with them in mind.  And, the objective of the careful design is to also provide another next step that is easy, obvious and strategic.  See also, Create Connecting Steps that Are Easy, Obvious, and Strategic and How Would You Rate the First Steps Out of Your Auditorium?

A commitment to sequential and tailored next steps makes it necessary to say no to any activity or program that can’t clearly articulate who it is for.  It also makes it necessary to say no to any activity or program that can’t identify its own next step.

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

Image by Hotel Montecatini Terme

5 Strategic Flaws that Cripple Ministry Impact

There are recognizable strategic flaws in the culture of churches that are stuck.  Fresh eyes can almost always spot strategic flaws in an honest conversation, a website review, or an onsite visit.  Sometimes it can be just one strategic flaw.  Other times it is the whole set.  Does your church struggle with any of these?

5 Strategic Flaws that Cripple Ministry Impact:

  1. Celebrating menu options, variety and choices.  For all the buzz around the idea of the simple church, there are still considerably more churches that actually celebrate menu options, variety and choices.  Although somewhat counterintuitive, it turns out that a buffet with many choices actually makes it harder for people to recognize and take their next step.  Churches that reason that more options leads to more participation actually have it wrong.  Fewer options leads to more participation.  See also, How to Make Next Steps Easier to Choose.
  2. Unwillingness to stop and ask for directions.  What’s the farthest you’ve driven in the wrong direction?  In the era of GPS positioning, I suppose it is becoming less common all the time to miss a turn and just keep driving.  Unfortunately, it is the rare church that comes equipped with a GPS system.  Worse yet, although it’s been a long time since anything looked familiar, they just keep driving in the same direction without every stopping to ask for directions.  See also, Recalculating: 5 Signs Your GroupLife System Needs an Update.
  3. Insisting that the culture must adapt.  This is a tragic flaw that affects many churches.  Music selection, dress codes, and reaction to tattoos and piercing are really just the tip of the iceberg.  Failure to anticipate low biblical literacy and the expectation that compliance to a moral code precedes acceptance are two very common strategic flaws in churches with low ministry impact.  See also, A Myopic Understanding of the Culture.
  4. Endless pursuit of problem-free.  The headlong pursuit of a problem-free strategy or solution delays more ministry than almost anything else.  The truth is there is no problem-free.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have and pull the trigger.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem-Free.
  5. Optimization of the status quo.  What if it turned out that tweaking what you’re currently doing (optimizing) was keeping you from moving in the direction that would actually open new doors for ministry?  What if what got you here won’t get you there?  See also, 5 Keys to Taking New Ground in 2014 and Do You Struggle with This Leading Cause of Ministry Misfire?

Can you see yourself?  Have you already done a trouble shoot and eliminated these most common flaws?  Or are you still stuck?  What if 2014 was the year you found the courage to press ahead?

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

Don’t Miss Church Leadership Essentials: What Every Pastor Needs to Know

church leadership essentialsDownloaded a great new book this week: Church Leadership Essentials: What Every Pastor Needs to Know by Greg Atkinson.  More than a great read, this book is packed with ideas you are going to want to have in your toolbox.

I have to say, I love the way this book is put together!  34 short, extremely practical chapters.  This is the kind of book that will make a fantastic “read a chapter a week and then discuss” resource.  This may be because the author got his start as a blogger–a very good one.  His very readable style makes every chapter a breeze to read.

Another thing I love about Church Leadership Essentials is the fact that this is not theory.  Atkinson is a ministry veteran (two decades of experience) and no stranger to the need for practical, real-world  leadership.

It may be just me, but I also really enjoyed the present day, ripped from the headlines, feel of every illustration.  Some books feel stale and dated when they first come out.  Not this one!  Everything about it seemed very fresh and definitely up-to-date.

My favorite aspect of the book?  I found myself shaking my head in agreement and thinking about sharing it with my team for discussion.  If you lead a team, you’ll be thinking the exact same thing.  Church Leadership Essentials will make it easy for you to process with a team (paid or volunteers).  Even better, working through the content with your team will make them stronger.

If you’re looking for a resource that can help your team take things to a new level, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Church Leadership Essentials.  Packed with great insights; I know you are going to be glad you picked it up!

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.”

Launch New Small Groups on Easter with This Simple Strategy

Need to connect people and launch new small groups?  The short season following Easter is one of the three best times every year to launch new small groups and connect a certain kind of person.

When can you launch?

This year (2014), Easter is on April 20th, which means that you can launch some new groups and help them get off a to a good start before summer.  If you work this strategy correctly, you can even help them begin a second six-week study as June begins!  That’s a good thing.

Who can you connect?

If you make the right ask, the easiest group to connect are people who may have been infrequent attendees over the last few years.  They’ve missed your fall campaign opportunities (late September/early October) to connect and even your first of the year opportunities (late January/early February).  They will be in your Easter services, and if you work this correctly you have a good opportunity to grab some of them!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Schedule a connecting opportunity 1 or 2 weeks after Easter.  This should be at a convenient time and in a room that will comfortably seat the number of people you think you can attract around tables (I usually arrange two long tables side by side to form a square that will seat 12).  It is important to provide childcare.  Depending on when you schedule it, you may want to provide something simple for people to munch on.
  2. Choose a study that will appeal to the kind of people you hope to connect.  The kind of people we’re talking about will only respond to a study they think will be good for them.  See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?
  3. Decide how new leaders will be provided.  Depending on your level of comfort, you can use a small group connection strategy and allow each new group to choose their own leaders.  Or, you can recruit enough new leaders to make a six-week commitment and help the new groups get started.  See also, How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection and Take a Small Group Vacation!
  4. Begin promoting the connecting opportunity two weekends before Easter.  Keeping in mind that unconnected people are infrequent attendees, it’s important to make the same invitation several weeks in a row.  If you begin two weekends prior to Easter, you can give people 4 opportunities to sign up (2 prior, Easter, and 1 after).
  5. Make it easy to sign up.  Place an insert in your bulletin that easy to complete (name(s), phone number, email).  Make the ask before the offering if possible.  Have them put the insert in the offering plate as it comes by.  See also, How to Make the HOST Ask: The 2012 Version (although you’re recruiting members to sign up, you can learn a lot from this article).

This is a very simple idea.  There are some moving parts, but it’s still very simple.  Start today.  Work at it over the next few weeks.  You’ll be surprised how simple it really is!

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

Do You Have Eyes to See and Ears to Hear?

Jesus had some one-liners that he used over and over again.  I think one of his favorites might have been the “eyes to see and ears to hear” reference.

Favorites might not be the right word.  There definitely seem to have been times when it was actually a little exasperating that his disciples could be right alongside him and not see what was really going on.   Mark 8:14-21 is a good example.  Right after Jesus had fed the 4,000, they were back in a boat crossing the lake when this conversation happened:

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?

In a recent conversation with a small group pastor I found myself wanting to interrupt and use the line myself.  As I listened to him describe a plan he had developed, I stopped him more than once with questions intended to help him see a flaw or several in his plan.

This is important: Essentially he was creating a new destination instead of a legitimate step that led to authentic community.  See also, Three Important Distinctives of North Point’s Access Group Strategy and 5 Powerful Ideas that Could Reshape Your Ministry Approach.

Each of my questions was met with a rationale (or a rationalization).

After several attempts to draw his attention to what I saw as a fairly significant flaw in the strategy, it seemed for a moment that I had succeeded.  He said, “Ahhh.  Okay…I see what you’re saying.  It’s because we’re not serving bread!”  (He didn’t really say that, but it was equally off target).

Three Observations:

  • All of us struggle to see the flaws in our own plan.  I do.  And you do too.
  • The power of fresh eyes cannot be overstated.  Including an outsider with no emotional attachment is an essential ingredient if we want to do our best work.  See also, Fresh Eyes and No Emotional Attachment.
  • My daily prayer must become, “Lord, help me to have eyes to see and ears to hear.”  And yours does too.

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