Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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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.

Do You Struggle with this Leading Cause of Ministry Misfire?

I’ve written many times about the dangers of what I call the pursuit of problem-free.  I’m pretty sure that the dogged search for problem-free solutions delays more ministry than anything else.

Ready to pull the trigger on a new strategy to connect people?  Can’t do it.  First, we need to look for a strategy that connects the maximum number of people with a minimum of risk.  Coaching system broken?  Let’s turn over one more rock and see if we can find a fail safe system.

With me?  The pursuit of problem free.

Turns out that the pursuit of problem free is not the only issue.  Turns out there is a another leading cause of ministry misfire.  Know what it is?  It’s called the optimization of the status quo.  Essentially, it is the attempt to tweak strategy to gain a slightly better outcome.  You know how this works.

“We connected 78 people in 5 new small groups…what if we tweak the way we follow up on sign-ups in order to decrease the sign-up to show-up ratio?”

Is that bad?  Nope.  Optimizing performance is a good thing…except when it comes in place of the next idea.

One of the most important books I digested in 2013 is Roger Martin’s Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works.  I love that book.  So good and very, very helpful from a strategic standpoint.  Martin makes the very important point that:

“The optimization of current practices does not address the very real possibility that the firm could be exhausting its assets and resources by optimizing the wrong activities, while more strategic (opportunities) pass it by.”

Oh my.  Know anyone who spends most of their time optimizing current practices, the status quo, instead of finding the best way to _________?  See also, Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions.

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

Can You Spot These Serious Small Group Ministry Misalignment Signals?

AlignmentDoes your strategic dashboard light up with flashing warning signals and even alarm bells when you run certain diagnostics?  Or do you find yourself reporting that “everything is fine” even when you find yourself uneasy about what’s really happening?

I’ve written about the top 1o signs your small group ministry needs a reboot and a 5 step plan for rebooting your small group ministry, but it occurred to me that you might not necessarily recognize several key misalignment signals.

What am I calling a misalignment signal?  Why am using that term?  Pretty simple really.  It is very common to find myself mid-conversation with a pastor and suddenly discover that they’ve chosen a strategy that just isn’t the right one given their results.  They may hope things will work out, but the signals their system is giving off clearly indicate that something is very wrong.  See also, 5 GroupLife Dots You May Not Be Connecting.

Here are 5 serious misalignment signals:

  1. Your senior pastor is ineffective at making the HOST ask and the response is always less than you hope.  It has been my observation that a well-executed HOST ask should generate a response from 5 to 10% of your average adult attendance (Example: if you average 500 adults in your weekend services, a well-executed ask will generate a response of 25 to 50 host sign-ups).  If you hope to grow your small group ministry using the church-wide campaign strategy, this is an extremely dangerous misalignment signal.  See also, How to Make the HOST Ask: The 2012 Version.
  2. Rows and circles are lumped in the same category.  If your announcements, bulletin, and website content all give the impression that small groups (circles) and Sunday school classes (rows) offer the same benefits, an alarm bell ought to be loudly clanging in your head.  Without a doubt, there are small groups where authentic community doesn’t happen and there are Sunday school classes that offer true community and lots of life-change happens.  But…if you’re promoting all programs equally and they aren’t all producing what you know people need in order to grow in Christ, this is a very important misalignment signal.  See also, True Community? Or a Smaller Version of the Weekend Service?
  3. Every small group leader has an apprentice but few new groups birth.  This is a serious issue if the apprentice strategy is your primary strategy for launching new groups.  If fewer than 50% of your groups birth every year you may actually be going backwards in terms of the percentage connected.  See also, How Important Is It to Have an Apprentice?
  4. You’re only identifying enough new leaders to replace those who move away or “take a break.”  Treading water is a clear sign of misalignment.  Building a thriving small group ministry will almost always require growing your total number of groups by 10 to 20% every year.  Very difficult to do without an aggressive strategy to add new leaders.  See also, My Top 3 Ninja Ideas for Recruiting New Leaders and Is An Artificial Barrier Limiting Your Small Group Ministry?
  5. Your minimum involvement expectations are out of step with the pace of life.  In most cases the average adult will struggle to commit to even one step beyond attending a weekend service.  Many churches promote the expectation that they want to challenge their congregation to attend a service, connect to a group, and serve in a ministry.  Clearly, based on actual participation, that is an aggressive goal and expectation.  If legacy expectations from another era are still in existence in your culture, you need to adjust expectations (i.e., if you still expect attendance at a mid-week service, you are almost always out of step with the pace of life).  See also, Determining the Minimum and the Recommended Dose.

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

Image by Yann Caradec

Top 10 Posts of February, 2014

Miss a day?  Here are my top 10 posts of February, 2014.

  1. 10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry (December, 2013)
  2. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May, 2008)
  3. Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions (January, 2013)
  4. Can You Tell If Your Small Group Might Be a Zombie? (February, 2014)
  5. 5 Easily Overlooked Secrets to Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry (February, 2014)
  6. 5 Blatantly Obvious Truths about Starting New Small Groups (February, 2014)
  7. Start with the End in Mind (September, 2011)
  8. What’s Better? Rows or Circles? (January, 2014)
  9. 10 Ideas that Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry (December, 2012)
  10. New Must-Read from Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger: Transformational Groups (February, 2014)

Top 10 Signs It’s Time to Abandon Your Small Group Strategy

Although you never want to give up prematurely…there are signs that it’s time to throw in the towel.  Let’s just say if very many of these happen…it might be a sign:

  1. Your capital campaign reaches the hallelujah goal and you can finally build the Taj Mahal of adult education space with a lifetime supply of rows!
  2. You have a recurring dream of napping in a row in theater style chairs with headrests and cup holders.
  3. You discover that 2% of the grab-and-go hosts really were ax murderers.
  4. Your end of the year host survey revealed that 2013’s most popular small group study was The Secret.
  5. The preferred future your senior pastor casts vision for sounds suspiciously like a smaller version of the weekend service.
  6. You can’t find enough Bible school graduates who are church members, will commit to your monthly three hour leader’s meeting and give at a tithing level to meet the need for group leaders!
  7. Your end of the year evaluation of your coaching structure reveals that being an elder may not qualify you to be a coach.
  8. In a stunning development, flannelgraphs are the surprise comeback media hit of the year!
  9. The follow up to Willow Creek’s Reveal study demonstrates conclusively that the optimal environment for life-change is a row!
  10. It turns out that better fill-in-the-blank workbooks are the secret key to making disciples who make disciples.

What do you think?  Have one to add?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Here’s a Front Row Seat to Saddleback’s HOST Gathering

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 6.34.25 AM

If you read my recent interview with Steve Gladen on the power of a host gatherings you might want to see one for yourself.  Well, at least for now…you can!  Here’s a link to their most recent HOST gathering (Sunday, February 23, 2014).

An interesting tidbit you’ll learn in watching the host gathering is that earlier in the day, Rick Warren had suffered a dizzy spell and not spoken at Saddleback’s 11:00 a.m. service.  4 hours later…he made the most of the HOST gathering!

I learned later that Saddleback’s Host Gathering was attended by 2100 hosts at the Lake Forest Campus (their other campuses had not yet reported in) and 3507 individual ISP’s watched online.  Think about that!  Next time you do a training event…you might want to video it and make it available online!

You’ll hear some amazing statistics during the gathering.  For example,

  • 8,481 small groups participating in Saddleback’s 50 Days of Transformation
  • The groups were in 5 counties, 218 cities, and 22 languages
  • 1204 online groups are participating in Saddleback’s 50 Days of Transformation (594 are outside the 5 county area)

I hope you’ll take the time to watch the HOST gathering!  I learned some very helpful things and I’m sure you will too.

Top 10 Ways to Launch New Groups

launch flickr

Courtesy of Kim Seng

There are many ways to launch new groups.  If you’ve limited your attempts to one strategy…you truly do not know what you are missing.

Here are my top 10 ways to launch new groups:

  1. Launch a church-wide campaign.  If you want to launch a wave of groups, there is absolutely no better way.  This strategy leverages the external connections of hosts and with the right campaign can provide an amazing link into the community.  See also, The Exponential Power of a Church-Wide Campaign and 10 Simple Steps to a Great Church-Wide Campaign.
  2. Hold a Small Group Connection.  The key to this strategy is that it connects the people who come to the event and doesn’t require “pre-qualified leaders” going into the event.” See also, How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection.
  3. Plan and launch GroupLink.  This is an excellent strategy.  If you are a fast growing church and late to the game, it will not catch a moving train.  But…if you’re looking for a plug-and-play concept that will work in season and out…you’ve got to consider this one.  See also, North Point’s Small Group System.
  4. Launch sermon-based groups.  It is hard to argue with North Coast’s sermon-based semester concept.  They’ve been successful at connecting 80% of their weekend adult attendance for many years and it is a very viable strategy.  See also, An Analysis of the Sermon-Based Small Group Strategy.
  5. Hold a small group fair.  Most commonly used in conjunction with a free market strategy, this is a very good way to help unconnected people find a group they’d like to join.  See also, Distinctives of the Three Types of Small Group Connecting Events and A Potentially Game-Changing Mashup We’ll Be Testing in September.
  6. Plan a “book club.”  See also, Two Big Opportunities That Will Connect More People This Spring.
  7. Reconfigure existing Bible studies or classes into true group experiences.  See also, True Community? Or a Smaller Version of the Weekend Service?
  8. Design a menu of short-term on-campus “classes” that lead to off-campus groups.  See also, North Point Increases GroupLife Participation by Adding an Easier Next Step.
  9. Plan a special event with a speaker (live or video) on a topic that attracts an affinity (couples, singles, men, women, empty nesters, single parents, etc.).  With the right advance planning and a little creativity, it’s easy to imagine the strategic grouping of unconnected people at an event that includes a speaker, dessert, and conversation.  Would you like to meet one more time to talk about what you’ve learned tonight?
  10. Make the small group vacation strategy a regular part of your annual playbook.  This really is a genius move.  Simply suggest that existing groups consider taking a six week vacation from their group to help jump-start a new group.  Ingenious!  See also, Take A Small Group Vacation!

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

New from Chris Mavity: “Your Volunteers” Packs a Powerful Punch

your volunteersI tripped across a fantastic training resource over the weekend! Your Volunteers: From Come and See to Come and Serve is a short little book that packs a big impact.  Written by Chris Mavity, Executive Director of North Coast Training, Your Volunteers is a book you’re going to want to read right away and again and again.  More to the point…you’re going to be passing this on to your staff and key volunteers because this book is a game changer.

Your Volunteers is short–just 84 pages in the Kindle version–but it is packed with great ideas!  There are a number of aspects that I really love:

First of all, Chris Mavity is not a theorist.  The principles and practices outlined in Your Volunteers are time-tested and true.  They’re in evidence at North Coast (and many of the other churches that have been trained and have adopted them).

Second, the section on environment is golden.  Although it will strike you as a no-brainer, it will give you some language that will really help you cast vision, reframe expectations, and just in general envision a new way of thinking about the kind of environment that produces volunteers.

Third, the section on volunteer operations is really way beyond ordinary.  The way Chris fleshes out the five operational skills is very, very helpful.  The five skills are recruiting, training, placing, supporting, and monitoring and I’m willing to bet that your copy will be just as marked up and highlighted as mine.

Finally, I really love the chapter-ending set of key ideas and discussion questions.  You’ll begin imagining the and planning the good conversations and clear next steps that your team is going to take from the moment you finish chapter one (on valuing your volunteers).  Seriously, seriously good stuff and very helpful.

I loved Your Volunteers!  Can’t wait to get it in the hands of my team…and I know you’ll feel the same way.

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.”

5 Key Ingredients that Motivate a First Step Toward Community

Here is today’s question: What are the key ingredients that motivate unconnected people to take a first step toward community?  Is there a recipe that helps motivate a toe-in-the-water?  What is it?  Do you need all of the ingredients?  Or do you just need 3 or 4 of the key ingredients?

Just like any other recipe, I think there is almost always a nearly perfect mix.  The right ingredients, in the right proportions, prepared in just the right way, add up to deliver the results you desire.  And I think when you want your congregation to be connected in community (because you know that is the optimal environment for life-change), you get serious about the recipe!

Here is what I believe are the key ingredients:

  1. Senior pastors’ stories about their own need for community.  This may be a no-brainer, but all of us should know that no one is trying anything new that the senior pastor isn’t already doing.  The evidence is in on this ingredient.  You might be able to get by without one or two of the other ingredients…but not this one.  See also, Note to Senior Pastors: Authentic Community Begins with You.
  2. Compelling stories from satisfied customers.  “I use ______.  You should too!”  There is a reason that marketers love the power of a great testimonial.  When the testimonial comes from someone who looks and sounds like me, I am much more likely to give it a try.  See also, Gather Stories as If Lives Are in the Balance.
  3. First steps that are easy, obvious and strategic.  Unconnected people can be motivated by senior pastors and the compelling stories of satisfied customers, but first steps must still seem reasonable in their eyes.  It doesn’t matter what you and I think is an easy first step.  If the unconnected people in your congregation (and crowd) don’t feel like the step you’re offering is doable…it’s not.  See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps Out of Your Auditorium?
  4. First studies that are designed with unconnected people in mind.  Not only must the first steps offered be easy, obvious, and strategic…the topic must be something that matters to unconnected people.  Ever wondered why some church-wide campaigns work better than others?  This ingredient is at the heart of the issue.  Choose the right study, the invitation is accepted.  Choose the wrong study and the invitation is dead on arrival.  Never had a chance.  See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?
  5. The sense that everyone else is doing it.  This may not seem like it is a big deal or should be a big deal…but it is a big deal.  This is why it’s important to get everyone on board when you’re launching a church-wide campaign.  It’s also why it’s important to eliminate competing programs (or at least don’t promote them) during intentional efforts to encourage everyone to take a baby step and take a group for a test-drive.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.

The remaining question?  Are all five of these ingredients essential?  Do you think there’s a missing ingredient?

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

Are Your Next Steps Premeditated?

Yesterday I asked, “How would you rate the first steps out of your auditorium?”  If you’ve been around much in the last couple years you know that we’ve been working on the idea that our strategies ought to include “next steps for everyone, and first steps for their friends.”  See also, Clue #2 When Designing Your Small Group System.

Taking a cue from the Saddleback circles (representing their crowd-to-core strategy), we’ve wondered, what would it look like to design next steps that would help everyone in our church take a next step?  Everyone meaning the people in the crowd who come only on Easter and Christmas as well as the people who really do consider your church to be the church they go to…even though they only come when it’s convenient.  And then doing the same kind of thinking to describe the people in your congregation, committed and core.  See also, Next Steps for Everyone…and First Steps for Their Friends, The Engel Scale and the Need for Customized Next Steps, and 5 Powerful Ideas that Could Shape Your Ministry Approach.

First steps for their friends has to do with designing first steps for the friends of the people in your church.  Many of us already have events or programs that are intended to be first steps from the community.

Here’s Today’s Question:

Are your next steps premeditated?

I’ve been thinking about this idea for a couple weeks now.  Mulling around in my head the notion that there is a difference between a murder that is premeditated and one that is a crime of passion.  They’re treated differently.  Why?  A premeditated murder is calculated.  In a kind of Walter White way, all of the details have been thought about…in advance.

Now stop and think about the next steps you’ve designed in your strategy?  Could you be convicted for committing a premeditated next step?  Or do the next steps in your strategy have more in common with an afterthought?

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

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