Thinking Thursday: Tony Fadell: The first secret of design is … noticing

tony fadellAs human beings, we get used to “the way things are” really fast. But for designers, the way things are is an opportunity … Could things be better? How? In this funny, breezy talk, the man behind the iPod and the Nest thermostat shares some of his tips for noticing — and driving — change.

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

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Quotebook: Self-Control

self controlI know (and you know) that “whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.” We know this. It is not a mystery or some kind of secret code. I know (and you know) that what happens at the member level is ultimately influenced by what happens in our lives. This also is not a mystery or secret code. It is self-evident.

And I much as I write about the habits I’d look for if I was hiring a small group pastor and the 8 habits of a life-changing small group leader, I know intuitively (and so do you), that we are fools to expect anything more than what we are living at the member level. See also, 5 Habits I’d look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader and Model What You Want to Happen at the Member Level.

And this is why it has become my preoccupation for the next season to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

To that end, here are two lines that I’ve written out on post-its so they’ll become part of my daily routine:

“Self-control begins when you begin to take your thoughts captive.” Clay Scroggins, Wish You Were Here, Control Yourself

“You only have control over three things in your life: the thoughts you think, the images you visualize, and the actions you take.” Jack Canfield, Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life by Orrin Woodward

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What Do You Need to Abandon?

abandonedThis program has meant so much for so long to all these people! How can you even think of getting rid of the program that helped all of us start following Jesus? Old Mrs. Jones would roll over in her grave if she knew that the class named after her was being cancelled!

Who hasn’t had this “discussion” (read argument)?

The prerequisite to successful pursuit of the new and highly promising

Peter Drucker wrote that “planned, purposeful abandonment of the old and of the unrewarding is a prerequisite to successful 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 (Managing for Results, p. 143).”

Of course, Peter Drucker wasn’t writing about a church. He was writing about business, right? Actually, Drucker often focused his attention on non-profits and personally mentored both Rick Warren and Bill Hybels.

Corporations, both for-profit and non-profits, struggle with the difficult task of putting an end to programs that were successful in the past; with things that were once the bread-winner and now are mostly a resource drain.

Still, the truth is most businesses, most non-profits struggle to do what they know they should do…and a few make hard but necessary decisions and then reap the benefit.

INTEL actually provides one of the most dramatic examples of a company that abandoned a successful product in order to make resources available for the product that would carry them into the future. Beginning to see the handwriting on the wall of the memory chip business, Andy Grove and Gordon Moore knew they must move to microprocessors. Finally, they reasoned, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do?  Why shouldn’t we walk out, come back in and do it ourselves?”  Andy Grove, Former CEO, INTEL

The question today is, “What do you need to abandon?” See also, Andy Stanley: Random Thoughts on Leadership.

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4 Keys to Connecting People No One Else Is Connecting

face in the crowd“To reach people no one else is reaching we must do things no one else is doing.”

That was the line I heard from Craig Groeschel at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit in 2008. I remember where I was sitting in the Bayside Community Church auditorium when I heard the line. I can’t tell you anything else I heard at the Leadership Summit that year, but I’ll never forget that single line.

As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one rocked by the line. Andy Stanley referenced it in a memorable Drive Conference session. You can listen to him recount its impact right here: What no one else is doing.

“To reach people no one else is reaching we must do things no one else is doing.” If there was ever an idea that was self-evident, that was and is one.

To connect people no one else is connecting

When I heard the line, it was only a short leap to rearrange it this way:

To connect people no one else is connecting, we must do things no one else is doing.”

And like Groeschel’s original line, what this means is that simply improving what we’re already doing won’t get it done. In the same way moving from pews to theater seating and from a pipe organ to a band left many still unreached, so it is that improving the way we train small group leaders or installing a better online small group finder will still leave many unconnected.

What will enable our small group ministries to connect people no one else is connecting? Doing things that no one else is doing.

How can we crack the code? How can we develop the new ideas that will connect people no one else is connecting? Here are what I believe are 4 keys.

Four keys to connecting people no one else is connecting:

  1. Develop a conviction that there is no problem-free strategy or solution.  Don’t miss this important concept. As long as you are hunting for a problem-free solution you will be procrastinating the moves you need to make. Until you abandon the search for problem-free you will be quick to delay decisions that ought to be made. You must develop a conviction that there is no problem-free. Beyond that, you must own the idea that the pursuit of problem-free inhibits and prevents more ministry than anything else. See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System, Model or Strategy.
  2. Cultivate the willingness to try and fail.  Redefine failure as fear of failure.  Adopt the attitude that in failing faster you’re moving closer to a winning strategy. I love the thinking of David Kelley, founder of legendary design firm, IDEO: “At IDEO, we believe that enlightened trial and error beats the planning of flawless intellects. In other words, we fail faster to succeed sooner. The reason is simple: the best solutions to most problems are rarely the most obvious.” See also, Beware of the Lure of the Status Quo.
  3. Always look at the individual variables within a working strategy (or even a sputtering strategy).  Many times tinkering with one variable is all it takes to turn failure into success or marginal success into a huge win. Not a failure by any stretch of the imagination, Saddleback expanded its small group impact exponentially in 2014 by adding a simple phrase to the HOST ask made in their church-wide campaign. The phrase? “If you have a couple friends you can host a group.”  See also, Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.
  4. Experiment continually with new possibilities knowing that the best way of connecting unconnected people hasn’t been tried yet.  Do this even when you’re existing strategies are working because you know you’ve not yet connected everyone. See also, The Unexpected Twist in Saddleback’s Exponential Growth Formula

Want to connect people no one else is connecting? You must do things no one else is doing. Image by Scott Cresswell

5 Recommended Follow-Up Studies for Church-Wide Campaigns

fiveI’ve pointed out a number of times that one of the most important keys to sustaining new small groups is giving them a study to do next that is similar in kind. By that I mean similar in several ways:

  • Similar format. If you launch a group with a DVD-driven study, be sure and choose a follow-up that is also DVD-driven.
  • Similar leader preparation required. If the first study required only basic preparation, be sure and choose a follow-up that is easy on the new leader.
  • Similar member preparation. If the launching study had no homework or preparation, choose a follow-up that is easy on the member.
  • Similar interest level. If you used a cross-cultural study to launch the new group, choose a follow-up that will appeal to new members (or the friends and neighbors of new members).

I’ve also pointed out that it is wise to choose the follow-up study before you begin your church-wide campaign. You’ll want to introduce your recommended follow-up study in about week 4 of the launching study and you won’t want to be scrambling to figure out which study will appeal to your newest leaders and their members. See also, 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups.

5 Recommended Follow-Up Studies

Keeping these criteria in mind, here are a five of what I think are the best follow-up studies:

OverwhelmedOverwhelmed: Winning the War Against Worry is a six week, DVD-driven study on a topic that is dead center for many, many people.  Noble, the founding and senior pastor of NewSpring Church, “a growing, vibrant church with multiple locations all over the state of South Carolina,” is a gifted communicator and teacher, convicted about speaking the truth as plainly as possible.

Overwhelmed is a DVD-driven study, featuring the dynamic teaching of Perry Noble.  At 20 to 23 minutes in length, these sessions will hold everyone’s attention.  Clipped from a weekend message series at NewSpring, there is never a dull moment.  Powerful personal examples and great visuals will captivate your members. You can read my full review right here.

jesus isJesus Is: Find a New Way to Be Human is an 8 session small group study that reveals the character of Jesus in a powerful way.  Judah Smith is the Lead Pastor ofThe City Churcha multi-site church with thousands in attendance each weekend in the Seattle area.  He’s also a popular speaker at conferences and events in the United States and abroad.

(From the introduction) “Jesus is ______________?  That question was at the heart of a campaign The City Church launched with the goal of getting Seattle to think about Jesus.  Given a chance to fill in the blank on a website,, thousands of answers came in.  “Some were profound.  Some were hilarious.  Some were spiteful.  But all of them said something about the spiritual journeys of the people filling in the blanks.” You can read my full review right here.

followFollow: No Experience Necessary is DVD-driven and each of the sessions is a 17 to 22 minute clip from an Andy Stanley message.  One of the most compelling communicators in America, this is must see TV.  Never flashy or fancy, Stanley is known for his ability to draw out life-changing truth and deliver it in a way that is both inspiring and very memorable.  Follow is an excellent example of his pattern of taking difficult or challenging ideas and presenting them in a way that leads to application.

The participant’s guide includes everything you need to unpack the profound set of ideas that form the basis of this series. You can read my full review right here.

wiser togetherWiser Together: Learning to Live Together is a short study, just 5 sessions.  Featuring teaching by Bill Hybels, the founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, the sessions are classic examples of his style.  Each segment is a manageable length, the average time is 13 to 18 minutes.

The study guide includes all of the elements needed for a very good time together.  Along with a video viewing guide, each session includes a warm-up question or two designed to get your group engaged and talking.  A good set of discussion questions pulls members into a better understanding of the wisdom of scripture and adeeper study section provides another question or two if you have time to go further. You can read my full review right here.

five thingsFive Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith is not a new study. Published by Zondervan in 2009, the study is based on five faith catalysts that North Point has identified as the things God uses repeatedly to grow people’s faith.

DVD-driven, the six session study is anchored by excerpts from a North Point message series.  The sessions average 15 to 20 minutes in length and feature Andy Stanley, one of America’s most dynamic and creative speakers.  The DVD also includes all six messages in their entirety as a bonus feature.

Delivered in his classic application oriented style, Stanley zeroes in on the five faith catalysts of practical teaching, providential relationships, private disciplines, personal ministry, and pivotal circumstances. You can read my full review right here.

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Thinking Thursday: The Secret Structure of Great Talks

nancyduarteTEDFrom the “I have a dream” speech to Steve Jobs’ iPhone launch, all great presentations have a common architecture. In this talk, Nancy Duarte draws lessons on how to make a powerful call-to-action. (Filmed at TEDxEast.)

I’ve loved both of Nancy Duarte’s books (resonate and slide:ology) and this is a great talk.

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

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FAQ: Can You Recommend an 8 to 12 Week Study for a Campaign?

FAQI get questions. I get a lot of questions. About all kinds of small group ministry topics.

Here’s a good one that I got last week:

I notice the trend for small group campaigns is 6 weeks. Can you recommend 2-3 favorite studies of yours that are 8-12 weeks?

When I asked why they were looking for a longer campaign, my reader said:

Longer campaigns have helped align small groups at our church and create more of a groups culture. I’d like to keep the momentum going.

As a follow-up question, I asked what their percentage connected was. Here’s his answer:

We still have lots of unconnected people at church and I would love to know if study length is a barrier for them.

The key ideas I wanted my reader to wrestle with were these:

Percentage connected is a good measure of who you’ve actually connected. At the risk of oversimplifying, if your percentage connected is stuck over several years, there is a good chance you are simply satisfying the needs and interests of the usual supects. Breaking through percentage connected barriers requires choosing topics/studies that appeal to unconnected people. See also, Three Keys to Connecting Beyond the Core and Committed.

The topics/studies you choose determine two very important things:

  1. Who will say yes to joining a group
  2. Who will say yes to hosting a group and inviting their friends.

Topics/studies from the hard end of the easy/hard continuum will only appeal to the already connected. Topics/studies from the easy end of the easy/hard continuum will appeal to unconnected people. See also, Warning: Your Topic Determines Two Huge Outcomes.

The length of the study is another very important factor.

  • 6 weeks is just about perfect. Short enough to persuade an unconnected person (or someone willing to open up their home and invite a few of their friends) to put their toe in the water and try a group. Pick the right follow up study and at week 4 of the launching study it is easy to encourage new hosts and new members to continue something they are beginning to look forward to.
  • Shorter than 6 doesn’t allow enough time for the connective tissue of new relationships to begin to form (and it needs to reach a certain level of anticipation and satisfaction).
  • Longer than 6 weeks sounds more and more like a lifetime commitment to an unconnected person (or someone considering hosting a group for the campaign).

Longer studies and more challenging topics can be included on your discipleship/curriculum pathway. Existing small groups that have made it into their third study can be coached to choose more challenging and longer studies/topics. Designing a discipleship/curriculum pathway can play an important role in making the kind of disciples you hope to make. See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: Leaders and Members Know Best What to Study.

Conclusion: Every church will make their own decision about the topic/study and the length that is appropriate for their campaigns. As a result of extensive personal experience (both in the churches I’ve served and the hundreds of churches I’ve coached and consulted), I make recommendations based on the assumptions listed above.

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The Truth about Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry

truth washington monumentI talk and write a lot about building a thriving small group ministry. You might say I am preoccupied by it! Some might even say I am obsessed by the idea. See also, 10 Principles for Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry.

As part of the community here, I have no doubt that you’re thinking about what it will take to build a thriving small group ministry. You’re probably already working on building one!

Still, there a few things I need to remind you about.

You can’t build a thriving small group ministry…

  1. Overnight. Thriving small group ministries are never built in a day. They are never built as a result of a single small group launch or church-wide campaign. They are built over years as a result of an enduring commitment on the part of many. They are built over many seasons and are the result of determined resolution.  See also, Wash, Rinse, Repeat and the Long Run.
  2. By accident. Thriving small group ministries are the result of intentional choices made over many seasons and years. They are the result of design and not chance. They are the result of strategic preference and choice. See also, 7 Decisions that Predetermine Small Group Ministry Impact.
  3. On your own. Thriving small group ministries are built by teams; they are built by bands of committed men and women who know deep in their own experience the life-changing potential of a circle. A lone small group pastor can never accomplish what a committed core of leaders can. See also, 5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor.
  4. Without your senior pastor’s help. Building a thriving small group ministry cannot be done without the full support of the most influential person in the church. It won’t happen without your senior pastor as visible and unmistakable champion. See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1: A Doubtful and Conflicted Senior Pastor.
  5. With a buffet. Thriving small group ministries are built when next steps are easy, obvious and strategic. Larger and more extensive menus never make choosing the right next step easier. Smartly tailored and hand-crafted steps lead to more movement and a greater willingness on the part of unconnected people to take first steps. See also, 5 Totally Obvious Reasons Small Group Ministries Fail.

I’m sure I’m leaving a few things out. The truth about building a thriving small group ministry is that it’s not easy. It can’t be done overnight or by accident. You can’t do it alone. You need your senior pastor’s help and you can’t do it with a buffet.  See also, 5 Easily Overlooked Secrets to Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry.

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Insights That Sharpen Small Group Ministry Perspective

1911519592_90f62ac01f_zHave you noticed that reading more books (and blogs) sometimes increases confusion and indecision about the best way to do small group ministry? Add the input from conferences you attend and experts you listen to and you can end up with a pretty complex soup.

What should you do? It’s good to read, right? Leaders are learners, right?

Short answer: Yes, it’s good to read and it’s good to attend conferences and listen to experts. I’m right there with you.

Slightly longer answer: Computer theorist Alan Kay pointed out that “Point of view (or perspective) is worth 80 IQ points.” While it’s good to read, attend conferences and listen to experts, developing the filter of a point of view (or perspective)–through which to absorb new content–provides more clarity and less confusion.

Insights that sharpen point of view (or perspective):

Start with why. Building a small group ministry (or choosing a model, system or strategy) without clarity about the why behind your effort is a recipe for wandering in the wilderness. Did you begin with why? Is it still clear? Was it ever? Simon Sinek notes that “All organizations start with why, but only the great ones keep their why clear year after year.”

Start with why. This is a truly foundational insight. If you’ve never watched Simon Sinek’s brilliant TED talk on this idea, stop what you’re doing and watch it right now. See also, Wrestling with “Why” We Do “What” We Do and 6 Questions We Should All Be Asking.

Determine the what that must be done. Only after identifying why you care enough to do anything about it can you begin to think about what it is that actually must be done. Can you see that it would be foolish to have chosen a small group model, system or strategy before determining what must be done?

Decide how to do what must be done. This is about determining the best way to do what must be done. You are finally in a position to make a wise choice about a model, system or strategy).

I love an Andy Stanley line on this that make so much sense. “Don’t fall in love with a model. Fall in love with the mission and date the model.” When you are clear on the why (and the what) it is easy to choose the how (the model) that is the best way to do what must be done. See also, How to Choose a Small Group System, Model or Strategy.

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Quotebook: The Choice Between Risk and Comfort

boatI love this line from John Ortberg’s If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.

“The decision to grow always involves a choice between risk and comfort. This means that to be a follower of Jesus, you must renounce comfort as the ultimate value of your life.” John Ortberg

As I’ve been thinking about next steps for our ministry (and challenging you to do to the same), this quote is a powerful reminder of an essential choice.

The line also begs a question: What have I chosen? Comfort? Or risk? See also, What Baby Steps Will You Take Today?

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