6 Communication Mistakes that Limit Ministry Effectiveness

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  George Bernard Shaw

I have a love/hate relationship with Shaw’s line.  I love the simple truth in it.  And…I hate the simple truth in it.

One of the greatest inhibitors of effective ministry is poor (or less than great) communication.

Here are six very common mistakes:

  1. We assume that everyone already knows.  As infrequent attendance becomes more and more common, our assumption needs to be that everyone doesn’t already know.  This is why I’ve suggested that we need to make the host ask several weeks in a row.
  2. We try to explain detailed information in the wrong settings.  Some things need a more thorough explanation.  Detail can be provided in a well written FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document.  Here’s an example of a Host FAQ.
  3. We try to automate too much communication.  Some things need a personal touch.  I hand out a lot of business cards and say, “Call me.  Let’s talk about it.”  No matter the size of your ministry, personalizing some communication is just good practice.  I’ve pointed out this little detail before.  See also, The Teeny Tiny Detail at the Bottom of This Saddleback Web Page.
  4. We manufacture enthusiasm and it doesn’t fool anyone.  This is central issue in communication.  When the communicator doesn’t isn’t truly enthused about the program or event…everyone can sense it.  If the communicator isn’t enthused, either you have the wrong communicator or the wrong program.
  5. We communicate only the what (or the how) but not the why.  This is a very important understanding.  When all we do is explain what we’re doing or how we’re doing it, we miss the most important aspect…the why behind it.  Why is the most effective persuader/influencer.  See also, Wrestling with Why.
  6. We limit communication to an information/data exchange.  Like it or not, wired for it or not, there are many in your crowd who primarily respond to passion or emotion.  If all we do is communicate the facts, we miss this group.  Conversely, there are some that are wired to respond to the facts.  If all we do is make emotional appeals, we miss this group.  Balance is essential.

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

New from David Morlan and D.A. Carson: The Gospel of Luke: From the Outside In

Gospel of LukeWorked my way this week through The Gospel of Luke: From the Outside In, a new DVD-enhanced study from LifeWay.  Featuring teaching by D.A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and written by David Morlan, co-founder and teaching pastor at Fellowship Denver Church, this study is a Gospel Coalition venture.

With the DVD segments coming in at 4 to 6 minutes, this is what’s being referred to as a DVD-enhanced study.  While short, the teaching of D.A. Carson is simple, but quite engaging.  Seated at a club table and explaining portions of Luke’s gospel, the video segments are stripped down to the essence but do a good job opening eyes and ears to a fresh understanding of scripture.

A 12 session study, there is plenty here to digest.  Designed to take participants through 12 themes of the gospel of Luke, the related scripture passages and commentary are included in the member book, but ranging from 5 to 7 pages of text, will most likely be read in preparation for the group study.  One of the most intriguing aspects of the study are the series of notes in the margin of the commentary sections, designed to ask reflective questions that prompt either a good opportunity for discussion or contemplation.

The study design itself is relatively compact with:

  • a warm-up question to prime the pump of discussion
  • watching the short video segment
  • a simple set of discussion questions
  • a wrap up section with takeaways

A simple leader’s guide is included in the member book with helps and tips primarily for new small group leaders.

I like the simple format and think this study will be a helpful resource for groups that are looking for a study that will keep their meetings focused on a study of the Bible.  At 12 sessions it is too long for a first commitment to a group, but excellent for established groups looking for a study that will provide some guidance with plenty of room for their particular rhythms.

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. In addition, I am LifeWay’s small group specialist. 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.”

Designing Your Groups for Maximum Impact

When you think about your small group , was it assembled by design?  With some kind of intentionality?  Or did it just sort’ve randomly come together?

The same questions could be asked about the small groups in your ministry.  Were they assembled by design?  With some kind of intentionality?  Or did they just sort’ve randomly come together?

These are very important questions that are almost never asked.  They’re important because, to paraphrase Andy Stanley, “your small group (ministry) is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.”

Think about that line for a moment.  The results you’re experiencing are directly linked to the design of your group (or your ministry).  That should tell us that we ought to be paying attention to the design.

Design Your Groups for Maximum Impact

There are a number of important aspects to the design of a group.  Keep in mind that like everything else, there are no problem-free designs.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  Every design combination will produce different results.  Wise leaders choose the design combination that produces the results they want to have.

  • Affinity (men, women, couples, singles, single again, single parents, mixed):  Affinity plays a role in determining the studies that are most appropriate and helpful.  It can also influence interaction and intimacy.  Intentionally choosing which affinities to use to form groups helps determine the set of problems you’ll have.  For example, North Point’s Group Link forms groups for men, women and married couples.
  • Life-stage (college, premarital, newlywed, parents of toddlers, parents of teens, empty-nesters, etc.): Groups defined by life-stage can be very productive from a support and encouragement standpoint.  Like affinity, life-stage can play a role in curriculum selection.
  • Intergenerational (including members from a variety of affinities and life-stages): Like every other decision, there are advantages and disadvantages to an intentionally intergenerational format.  Proponents argue that younger or less experienced adults can learn from older participants with more life experience.  Fans of the life-stage form maintain that the appeal of common interests makes it easier to connect and strong bonds form more naturally.
  • Open vs Closed (are you open to new members or closed?):  Both forms have their advantages and disadvantages.  Open groups can make it easier to include friends and neighbors of members.  Closed groups can help create authentic community. See also, Top 10 Reasons I’m a Fan of Open Groups and Three Observations that Made Me a Fan of North Point’s Closed Group Strategy.
  • Short-Term or Ongoing (Start and stop, like a semester?  Keep on meeting for a lifetime?): Again, both forms have their advantages and disadvantages.  Short-term and semester-based groups offer multiple onramps per year, as well as clearly defined off-ramps.  Ongoing groups offer continuity and often the sense of family.

In addition to group type, other aspects affect impact.  The most important design element probably has to do with what happens in the meeting.  Healthy groups design certain ingredients into their regular gathering.  I personally believe that the most impactful groups are designed to connect outside of the meeting (and it might be even more important than what happens in the meeting itself).  See also, Healthy Groups Integrate Four Components into Every Gathering, 5 Keys to a More Dynamic Group Experience and Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change.

Important Note: I’m not suggesting blowing up what you have, simply that awareness of design (the lack of intention is a type of design) will begin to pay off as you take steps toward the preferred future of your small group ministry.

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

What’s in the 3rd Box?

What are you doing in your ministry that is about creating the future?  Remember, “the day to day execution of your existing model is vitally important.”  At least it is for me.  It’s important for me to do everything I can to connect as many unconnected people as possible and do it as fast as I can.  If I’m not on that mission, if my team loses focus on this task…it’s a bad thing.  And I’m betting it’s a bad thing for you too!

Still, as we’re learning from Vijay Govindarajan, it’s not enough to get box 1 right.  If we really want to continue making a difference 5, 10 or 20 years into the future, we need to be actively working on box 2 and box 3.  I’ve written about Saddleback’s repeated willingness to radically shift the way they connect people.  Want to play in the future?  We’ve got to be willing to work on box three initiatives.  See also, Transform Your Ministry with the Three Box Approach and Are You Wrestling with the Menace of Organizational Memory?

I’ve hinted at what we’re preparing to do in September.  Think Church-Wide Campaign with the HOST strategy and a new twist of a small group fair.  Could be a game-changer.  Can’t wait to see what happens!  Definitely a box 3 free-for-all!  See also, The Unexpected Twist in Saddleback’s Exponential Growth Formula and A Potentially Game-Changing Mashup We’ll Be Testing in September.

So what’s in your 3rd box?  Want to share with us what you’re getting ready to do?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Are You Wrestling with the Menace of Organizational Memory

Yesterday I posted an article explaining one of Vijay Govindarajan’s ideas from his important talk at the Global Leadership Summit.  If you missed it, I’d suggest going back and read Transform Your Ministry with the Three Box Approach.  Very important stuff.

Today, I want to dive in one more time to one of Govindarajan’s points in his article, The CEO’s Role in Business Model Reinvention.  In yesterday’s post I described his three box approach to organizational reinvention.  You’ll remember that Box 1 is about preservation, Box 2 is about destruction, and Box 3 is about creation.

Box 2 might seem straightforward, prune underperforming or outdated ministries and programs.  But I want to draw your attention to what he refers to as a “less-evident menace: organizational memory.”  Here’s how he describes the challenge:

As managers run the core business, they develop biases, assumptions, and entrenched mind-sets. These become further embedded in planning processes, performance evaluation systems, organizational structures, and human resources policies. Organizational memory is particularly powerful in companies that tend to promote from within and to have homogeneous cultures, strong socialization mechanisms, and long track records of success. Such deeply rooted memory may be great for preservation (box 1), but if it is not tamed sufficiently (box 2), it gets in the way of creation (box 3). That’s why all box 3 initiatives must start in box 2. Bottom line: Before you can create, you must forget.

Can you see how built-in biases, assumptions, and entrenched mind-sets might be clouding your ministry evaluation?  As I reflect on arm-wrestling sessions in the past about ministry effectiveness and new ideas, I can see clearly the impact of bias, assumptions, and mind-sets.  And while I can’t change what happened in the past, I can influence the way going forward by incorporating fresh eyes to discussions on change as well as new awareness of the menace of organizational memory.  See also, What In Your Ministry Is Off-Limits for Debate,

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

Transform Your Ministry with the Three Box Approach

Note: This concept has tremendous application regardless of the ministry you lead.  Don’t be put off by what might seem to be a more corporate concept and strategy.  Take my word for it, if you’ll take a few minutes to grasp the idea you’ll never look at your ministry in the same way again.


In the 2013 Global Leadership Summit, Vijay Govindarajan* introduced what he refers to as the three box approach to manage organizational reinvention.  Now, you probably already understand the need for reinvention, so I won’t go into any real detail.  Suffice it to say, that if any of the following are true, you need to think about reinvention:

  • If your ministry impact is plateaued or in decline.
  • If your ministry impact is limited to a small percentage of the community in which you operate.
  • If there are ministry opportunities you are aware of but haven’t identified a way to capture.
  • If your budget only fuels yesterday’s winners.
  • Etc.

See where this goes?

When you begin to see the need for reinvention (or to be honest, whether you see it or not), here is a very basic overview:

The essence of the idea is that all activity in an organization fits in one of three boxes.  Keep in mind that activity means much more than the programs or ministries themselves.  Activity includes planning, preparation, execution and evaluation.

Here are the three boxes:

  • Box #1 is managing the present: You might think of these activities as intended to improve today’s current ministry winners.  They’re flourishing.  Everyone can see that good things are happening.  There is good reason to preserve these things along with the sense that it makes sense to invest energy in tweaking design for even greater impact.  The key word for this box preservation.
  • Box #2 is selectively forget the past: You might think of these activities as aimed at stopping underperforming ministries and outdated programs.  The key word for this box is destruction.
  • Box #3 is creating the future: You might think of these activities as those that prepare your ministry for the long term, the next phase or season.  The key word for this box is creation.  

According to Govindarajin, for organizations to endure, “they must get the forces of preservation (box 1), destruction (box 2), and creation (box 3) in the right balance.”  He goes on to write that while striking this balance is the leader’s most important task, most organizations “overwhelmingly favor box 1.”

How about your ministry?  Are you balancing the three boxes?  Or are almost all of your eggs in preserving the status quo?

Here’s your assignment:  I love this diagnostic exercise from The CEO’s Role in Business Model Reinvention.

  1. Write Box 1, Box 2 and Box 3 on individual post-its and use them as headings on a wall.
  2. Spend some time imagining ministry in 5, 10 or 20 years.  Incorporate as much of what you’re seeing in the changing culture, changing demographics, pace of life, economics, morality, etc.
  3. Now take individual post-its and write each of the important initiatives under way in your ministry.  Stick them on the wall under the appropriate heading (Box 1, Box 2 or Box 3) in light of the 5, 10, or 20 year horizon you’ve identified.

How’d you do?  Are you balancing the three boxes?  Or are you overweighted in preservation?

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

*Vijay Govindarajan is the Earl C. Daum 1924 Professor of International Business and the founding director of the Center for Global Leadership at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.  He is also the author of a number of books including The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge and Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators: From Idea to Execution.

6 Ways to Help Your Senior Pastor Make the Small Group Ask

I’ve had the privilege of helping 6 senior pastors champion small groups and make the small group ask (That doesn’t include the hundreds of other senior pastors I’ve helped as a consultant and coach).

They’ve all been different.  No two have been completely alike.  And yet…they have shared certain characteristics and all of them have appreciated help with making the small group ask.

Here are 6 ways you can help your senior pastor make the small group ask:

  1. Get to know their sermon preparation rhythm.  How does their message come together?  How early do they begin to put it together?  When do they need input from you?
  2. Meet with your senior pastor well before the ask to explain how important their role is.  Most pastors will need more than one conversation about making the host ask or inspiring and challenging people to join a group.  An early meeting (two to three months ahead) will go a long way toward helping them prepare.
  3. Provide as much detail as they need.  Most of my senior pastors have asked for the bullet points I want them to hit.  Several have asked me to script what I’d like them to say.
  4. Ask about the possibility of seeing where in their message they’re planning to include the ask.  Not every senior pastor manuscripts their message.  Most at least develop an outline.  Very few go into the weekend with clarity on where they will make the ask.  If you can see it in advance, you can sometimes help them improve the location.
  5. Check in with your senior pastor just prior to the weekend for any final encouragement or questions.  Their schedules are often very predictable, and a last minute check-in can sometimes head off a misunderstanding or  lack of clarity.
  6. Listen to their sermon and meet with them immediately afterward for review and possible tweaks.  You need to have the right attitude, but most senior pastors are open to feedback because they want to be as clear and compelling as possible.

Bonus: This is a wash, rinse and repeat cycle.  In other words, just because you help your senior pastor this year doesn’t mean you won’t need to next year.

Need a little more?  Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF GroupsHow to Make the HOST Ask: The 2012 Version and Why You Must Make the HOST Ask Several Weeks in a Row.

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

Quotebook: Hardwired to Connect

Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly is packed with great content that will have an impact on your work.  Here’s an early quote on being hardwired to connect:

“Connection is why we’re here.  We are hardwired to connect with others.  It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.”  Daring Greatly, p. 7

Win 2 FREE Registrations to re:group: North Point’s Groups Conference

re.groupThis contest is over! Watch for our next giveaway! Join Andy Stanley and the North Point Groups team for re:group, one of the very best small groups conferences I’ve ever attended!  October 21st and 22nd at Buckhead Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

You’ll be inspired and equipped with the nuts and bolts of building a small group culture for adults.  And they’ll do it in typical North Point fashion with main sessions, numerous breakouts, time for interaction, a few surprises, their most recent learnings–and lots of fun.

I’ve got 2 FREE registrations to give away! It’s a $300 value!  (Technically…it’s worth much, much more.  I came away with several killer ideas last year.  You’ll do the same this year).

You must do TWO (2) things.  And you have to do BOTH to win.

  1. Use the comment section to tell me why you’d like to win.  You can comment right here.
  2. Tweet or Facebook the following line: “RT @MarkCHowell: Win 2 Free Registrations to re:group, a $300 value  http://bit.ly/1a4j4nG“

The contest ends on Monday, August 19th, at noon (PT).  Thanks for playing!

Trying to Figure out How to Market Your Small Groups?

Trying to get the word out about small groups in your church that are open to new members?  I think there are some precautions that you need to think about as well as some steps you can take to make connecting easier.

Here are a few precautions you might want to keep in mind:

First, keep in mind that the larger your small group ministry is, the more difficult it becomes to serve as a match-maker.  What does that mean?  The more time you spend as a middle man, the less time you have to focus on the things that only you can do (recruiting and developing small group leaders, recruiting and developing coaches, working with you senior pastor, etc.)!  See also, Matchmaking: Making it Easy to find a Group.

Second, the least connected people in your congregation are the least likely people to show up at a stranger’s living room.  Never lose sight of that!  You know those people that have told you how hard it was to come to your church for the first time?  They are even more hesitant to find a group online or out of a catalog and show up.  See also, Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind.

Third, established small groups begin to form an almost impenetrable membrane at about 6 months.  Prospective members (who are not extremely extroverted, almost brazen), will have a very difficult time breaking in.  See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Start Hew Groups.

Fourth, the best way to add new members to existing groups is to train members of existing groups to personally invite unconnected people to join.  Skill Training: 10 Ways to Find New Members.

How to help your existing groups market themselves:

First, consider using an online small group finder like ChurchTeams.  Making open groups available 24/7 without a middleman is an important step.

Second, consider hosting a small group fair.  This can help provide an important face-to-face interaction between member and leader.  See also, Distinctives of the Three Types of Small Group Connecting Events.

Third, one upside of the semester strategy is using a catalog to promote available small groups two or three times a year.  See also, An Analysis of the Free-Market Small Group System and Semester Based Groups.

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