Preoccupied with the Needs and Interests of the Right People

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Who are you trying to connect? Have you ever slowed down long enough to figure out who's already in and who still needs to be connected? There might not be a more essential next step than this one. In fact, many grouplife point leaders miss this step altogether and are mystified why they're not seeing the results that are happening elsewhere.

John Kotter, a noted authority on organizational change, points out that the inside-outside disconnect "always reduces an organization's sense of urgency (p. 67, A Sense of Urgency)." You may not feel like you're in an urgent situation, but if you've been paying attention to the widening 60% who are unreachable by attractional model you'll be aware that even churches that boast a high percentage of connection aren't really connecting beyond the usual suspects.

I've written about this in other places. For example, Breaking the Mythical 150% Participation Barrier is my response to the Leadership Network article about breaking the 50% participation barrier. My review of Larry Osborne's excellent book, Sticky Church, is my reaction to North Coast's 80% connection track record with the sermon-based model. And my review of Activate, Nelson Searcy's "we'll help you connect 100% of your weekend adult attendance" promise. As impressive as that is, in my opinion, it falls short of the real opportunity. More importantly, it falls far short of the real need.

What's the real opportunity? Connecting beyond the usual suspects is about leveraging the power of belonging first to include friends and family, neighbors and co-workers. But can I tell you something? Until we learn to be preoccupied with the needs and interests of those still on the outside...we'll miss this opportunity to connect beyond the usual suspects.. Until we really pay attention to the fact that unconnected people rarely care about "between the lines understandings of Paul's letters"...or "working our way through the Book of Acts," we'll miss out on any chance of connecting them to a life-change opportunity.

Until we learn to be preoccupied with the needs and interests of those still on the outside...we'll miss the opportunity to connect beyond the usual suspects. Click To Tweet

What's involved in becoming preoccupied with the needs and interests of outsiders? It's thinking about things like the easy/hard continuum. It's asking the right questions of the right people. It's developing the ability to say "no" to studies that assume prior knowledge or a special vocabulary.

Yesterday I talked about the importance of a bias toward new groups. Today...if you want to connect  people at crowd's edge, you better become preoccupied with the needs and interests of the right people. In my next article I talk about developing an openness to new ideas.

What do you think?  See how a bias toward new groups could make a difference in your small group ministry? Want to argue?  Got a question? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

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  1. Pastorjasonw on April 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Mark, I got one for you… We have recently added to our church a poor family that I would classify as ‘high need,’ materially, cognitively, as well as emotionally/spiritually. I believe the Mom, in particular has a very low IQ with limited mental/social capacity. They have 2 younger children and want to join a group. I usually connect newer people into groups that I feel are 1. geographically close to them and 2. similar in life stage, especially those with young children. This has worked thus far, but this case is different…

    I would classify our church as a middle/upper middle class church with mostly educated and cerebral folk and with equally cerebral messages/classes/lifegroups as well (Tim Keller/Ortberg/Cybala are small group favorites…). I honestly cannot think of a group right now where this family would ‘fit.’ Not because they wouldn’t be welcome, but due to their extreme needs as they tend to steer conversations towards their own issues and due to their cognitive limitations, don’t converse well with our ‘typical’ member. As a former educator, I understand that special skills are often required to communicate effectively with someone with a lower IQ or from a different socioeconomic culture than the core group. In a school, this is handled by specialists, but what about those with special needs in the church as it related to small group ministries? Any ideas on this would be welcome.

    I have noticed that as we have reached out to the community through various service projects, etc. that we have begun to attract some people that are are more from this category than we have ever had in the past. Some are victims of circumstances, but for many, their lack of educational attainment was due to limited cognitive ability. I’m not sure our modern small group models and strategies address this issue very well.

    It’s great, by the way, to see people putting their faith into practice as they work with the least of these, but as a small group guy, connecting them as they show up to church seems to require something different than what has worked in the past. I would love to hear your feedback!

  2. Anonymous on April 19, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    Jason…thank you for jumping in here. Certainly, working on the edges opens the door to lots of real life ministry. I wish I had a contact I could send you, but I don’t. I will say that I’ve not yet found a pattern and every case is different. Ministry at the edges is very much a case by case world.


  3. Chris Marsh on March 21, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Mark I think you are spot on! One of the greater challenges that I am seeing as we seek out relationships with these folks is that they want and desire “straight talk” both from personal group setting as well as from the pulpit. That means sometimes that we use real life illustrations that they really connect with. They don’t want to hear the Holy language not that they are opposed but that they simple aren’t at that place. In doing so, what is a real life illustration can be scathing to those well educated and indoctrinated Christians. I have experienced this first hand.
    Its not that we are watering down the Gospel or that we are teaching false doctrine, it’s simply that we have learned that dramatically increases our ability to connect. However, it also dramatically increases the “complaints” received from your “normal” attendees. They tend to view their offense of the real world illustration as greater and more important than the connections being made with those that are less fortunate. It is truly a tremendous point of discussion. I believe it is worth our efforts to do whatever it takes to connect them even when it goes against the grain of the seasoned or life time evangelical Christian.
    Great article! Thanks Brother…

  4. Anonymous on March 22, 2012 at 7:44 am

    Yes! Thanks for jumping in here, Chris. We can all expect to hear complaints from some of the already connected…for the same reasons that Jesus heard complaints. Not everyone can accept the other-centered teaching of Philippians 2.