Does Your Small Group Ministry Really Need a Cultural Anthropologist?

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You may not see this immediately, but if you don’t have an anthropologist…there’s a great chance your small group ministry offerings are designed to connect the wrong people.  That would be a bummer.  Wouldn’t it?

“But wait,” you might say.  “How could what we offer have anything to do with who we connect?”

Or, you might be tempted to think, “I think we’re doing just fine…thank you very much!”

But the questions I’d have for you is, “Who are you connecting?”  And, “Who are you hoping to connect?”

How would you answer those questions?  Feel good about your answer?

I’m pretty sure some churches, some whole churches go to bed at night thinking that they’re doing pretty well.  They’ve connected 40% of their average weekend adult attendance in a small group and their biggest worry is how to connect the 60% of adults in their congregation who aren’t part of a group.

Then there are other churches…really, certain people in some other churches…who cannot rest until they figure out how to connect the widening 60% of American adults who will never be reached by the  attractional model.

Can I tell you something?  Both churches, BOTH churches, absolutely need to begin to think like an anthropologist.  The very fact that we’ve all so badly missed the connection target is a clear indication that we don’t really understand the native population.

That’s why we all really need an anthropologist.

“Okay…I give,” you say.  “What is an anthropologist?”

In a technical sense, anthropologists are social scientists who study the origin and physical, cultural, and social development of human beings.  But can you see how that might relate to small group ministry?  Or ministry as a whole?  See…if we don’t really understand the native population…how will we ever reach them?  How will we ever connect them?

The Role of an Anthropolgist

I’m hear to tell you, without an anthropologist, you’re going to miss the point over and over.  Admittedly, I had never thought about this quite this way until I read The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley.   Here are a few of Tom Kelley’s observations about the traits of an anthroplogist:

  1. They practice the “beginner’s mind.” They are “unusually willing to set aside what they ‘know,’ looking past traditions and even their own preconceived notions.”
  2. “They don’t judge, they observe.  They empathize.”
  3. “They draw inferences by listening to their intuition. They are not afraid to draw on their own instincts when developing hypotheses about the emotional underpinnings of observed behavior.”
  4. “They seek out epiphanies through a sense of ‘Vuja De.'” Anthropologists “have the ability to see what’s always been there but has gone unnoticed–what others have failed to see or comprehend because they stopped looking too soon.”

So…do you have someone like that on your team?  Do you have someone who sees “what everyone else has seen” and then thinks “what no one else has thought?”  If you don’t have someone on your team like that, if you are not wired that way, you must find that person.  Without them, your efforts to connect beyond the usual suspects will always fall short.

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

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