Maintain Clarity on the What and Flexibility on the How

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Do you have clarity on what you’re trying to do?  Are you flexible on how you do it?  I’ve found that those are two of the really big rocks in small group ministry.  I’ve also found that when a small group ministry struggles, it’s often because these two foundational ideas are not in place.  Here’s what I mean:

First, you really do need to have clarity on what you’re trying to do. That is, you need to know for sure what your mission is.  Peter Drucker famously asked the question, “What business are you in?”  In order to really have impact, you need to be absolutely certain about the business you are in.  You need to know what you’re trying to do.

The first grouplife mission statement I ever heard was Willow Creek’s:

To connect people in groups where they can grow in Christ, love one another, and further the work of the Kingdom.

Knowing their mission enabled Willow to say yes to the things that would keep them on course and no to things that would take them off course.

At the same time, let me point out that a match between the corporate mission and your personal mission is what produces longevity.  A mismatched corporate and personal mission makes it tough to stay the course.  For example, reaching unchurched people is a big part of the corporate mission at Parkview.  Helping people grow in Christ is another big part of our mission (raise).

While the weekend service is really well designed to attract and bring back unchurched, unconnected people in big numbers, we have the conviction that the optimum environment for authentic life-change is a small group (not an auditorium).  It’s about life on life.  That makes for a great match between our corporate mission and my personal mission of helping the largest number of people connect in small groups where they can be known, loved, nurtured and challenged.

And that leads to the second foundational need:  The need for flexibility on the how.

Flexibility on the How

Can I tell you something?  Clarity on the what without flexibility on the how leads to a very frustrating and ineffective experience.  Why?  There’s always a better way to do what you’re trying to do.  Always.  Even when you’re firing on all cylinders and you’re really hitting it out of the park with your current strategy, your current model, there will come a time when you’ll begin to notice that it’s not working as well as it used to work.  When that happens, you’ll have a choice.  You can rationalize and accept the lack of effectiveness or you can be open to the idea that there is a better way, a more effective way.

Example: The development and implementation of the small group connection strategy was an awakening for me.  It really was an awesome to thing to watch.  Room full of people looking for connection.  Sort them out by affinity.  Help them identify a leader from amongst themselves.  We launched over 120 groups in the first year we used it.  It totally matched my personal mission and it was great!

When my friend Brett first suggested the HOST strategy, I resisted.  I argued for the old idea.  I couldn’t believe anything could be more effective than the connection strategy.  Guess what?  We launched an even larger number of groups with that idea.  Two things happened:

  1. I became a fan of the HOST strategy.
  2. I became a fan of the next idea.

Here’s the insight that drove those two developments:

  • The connection strategy connected the people who came to the event and identified leaders (when we didn’t think we had any).  That’s big!  If there was a downside it was that you had to come to the event to get connected.
  • The HOST strategy connected the friends of the people who said “yes” to hosting a group.  That had really, really big implications.  It allowed us to connect people who didn’t come to the event.

I have absolute clarity on what I’m trying to do.  I am always looking for a better how, a better way to do it.  See also, Is There a Design Limit on Your Small Group Ministry? and Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions.

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