Marketing and Multi-ethnicity



This post is the seventh post in a nine part Series: On Marketing and Ministry. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage.

We live in a world that is rapidly becoming both more diverse and more segmented.

We long for a world that is integrated, multi-ethnic, truly global.  But increasing diversity hasn't led to integration.  People push back.  Push hard.  Laws and walls emerge that would have looked silly thirty years ago.  What does this mean for us?

This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for ministry and marketing.

---------------------------------------------

"How do you know that Jesus accomplished something real on the cross?"

I love to ask this question to students.  Evidence of the gospel's power is so encouraging, but so often ignored.

When I ask this question, I often hear stories of personal transformation.  "God changed my life."  And these are true signs that Jesus accomplished something real.  But changed lives weren't the primary evidence of the gospel's power ... at least ... they aren't what Paul reached for most often or with the most force.

"Look at the multi-ethnic community of Christians."  This was Paul's emphasis.

Only God could create something like that.  People from every tribe and tongue and nation, gathered together at the foot of the cross.  One new body.  Destroyed barriers and walls of hostility.  Evidence.

Where is this in our ministry?
Where is this in our marketing?

-----------------------------------------------------

Market segmentation is not a new trend in ministry.  Although Paul tried to be "all things to all people," most of us have accepted that we are called to be "something to someone."  And so we focus.

Menu ministry.  Youth groups.  Even parachurch ministries like InterVarsity.

And we have a special place in the kingdom of God.

But even the most segmented ministry longs for diversity.

This longing was given to us by God.  It echoes the trajectory of the Spirit, who brings us together with people across ethnic boundaries.  One Spirit for all peoples.  The tug, for the follower of Jesus, is to diversity.

But in our sin, we resist this tug.  We fight those we've been attached too.  Label them. 

And to the watching world, this looks ugly.

-----------------------------------------

This is the challenge, but this is also the opportunity.

God pushes us toward multi-ethnicity.
And we find the watching world intensely curious.

"How is it that you have come to be together?" people should ask when they look at the church.  Our diversity should astound them.  In a world where marketing forces segment people into manageable chunks, our multi-ethnic resistance to segmentation catches attention.  That is, if we demonstrate resistance.

A multi-ethnic church is a powerful marketing force, a credible witness.

Do you have a multi-ethnicity worth marketing?

Tomorrow's post will be on Marketing and Fundraising.  How does our marketing practice influence our ability to finance our ministry?  A link will be posted here as soon as the post is published.

Photo courtesy of sheelamohan and http://freedigitalphotos.net

Marketing and Discipleship



This post is the sixth post in a nine part Series: On Marketing and Ministry. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage.
Start with math:
How many churches are there in South Florida? 1000? 2000?
How many people attend the average church? According to Michael Bell ... 184
How many people are involved in South Florida churches? between 200,000 and 300,000
How many people live in South Florida? Over 5 million

More math:
How many students are involved in campus ministries at Broward College? 70
How many students are enrolled at Broward College? 65,000

Last round:
How many disciples did Jesus have?  12 (but Judas ... well ... )
How many people are on the planet? 7,000,000,000
How many people does God want to hear the gospel of Jesus? ???

How are we going to cross these gaps?  From 300,000 to 5 million.  From 70 to 65,000.  From 12 to 7,000,000,000.  These are huge, huge gaps!

"This is going to require some great marketing," some might say.
"This is going to require some serious disciple-making," others might say.

I actually think these two go hand in hand.

When great marketing and serious disciple-making join up, we see rapid and sustainable expansion.

Disciple-making without great marketing practice ...
  • Lasts only one or two generations
  • Stays centered around "vocational" ministers
  • Drifts away from God's mission
Marketing without serious disciple-making ....
  • Runs only an inch deep
  • Exaggerates and disappoints
  • Flares and fades
How do we connect great marketing with serious disciple-making?

1) Buzz beats hype

We're skeptical of hype.  You can talk and talk about how great your product or service is ... but I doubt your honesty if you stand to benefit.  This culture of skepticism is a light and dark echo of postmodernity.

This is why buzz beats hype.  Hype is when I talk myself up.  Buzz is when others talk me up.

And when it comes to disciple-making, we need buzz.  In other words, we need people ... people who aren't up on stage ... talking about the benefits and blessing of following Jesus. 

And so serious disciple-making links up with great marketing in lay systems of multiplicative discipleship.  Sure, the pastor can mentor a few people.  But so can that lady who sings a little too loudly in the choir.  And that sophomore who wears his jeans a little too tightly.  And that guy that retired from Kodak but still has life and wisdom and energy to share.

When you think about discipleship, think about buzz as well as hype.

2) Clear messaging matters

For years I've engaged in non-replicable discipleship.  I'm an intuitive, responsive discipler.  I struggle with systems and programs, leaning more toward spiritual direction.

But to expand and fill the gaps, we need to find a way to get beyond custom, master-crafted discipleship.  Look at it this way ... Jesus had to find a way for Thaddeus and the other Judas to make disciples.  So he had a set of clear, easy-to-remember teachings and practices.

If we want our disciple-making to be transferable, we need to work on having clear messages.  And this is a challenge marketers often face.  The easier you make it to share about - whatever "it" is - the more ubiquitous it becomes.

There's a lot we can learn from cascading messaging, communication theory, and the gospels themselves.  How were Jesus' disciples able to record his words decades after he preached?  Why do the people I disciple have trouble remembering what we talked about from week to week?

When you think about discipleship, communicate in a way that can be repeated.

3) What you make matters

Great products market themselves.  If you want to expand your market-share, you have to make something remarkable ... remark-able ... worth remarking about.  And serious disciple-making accomplishes this.

Through the book of Acts and the early church, disciples of Jesus caught the attention of and attracted men and women to Jesus.  They loved.  They served.  They lived in ways that were intriguing.  These disciples brought in new disciples.

Discipleship systems collapse when we begin to ignore what sort of people we're producing.  We focus on the product and on content and on attendance, but don't pay attention to whether or not people are becoming more like Christ.  And nothing fuels a system like growth.

When you think about discipleship, pay attention to the people you're forming.

How is your ministry building bridges across these gaps?

Tomorrow, I'll share some thoughts on the intersection of Marketing and Multi-ethnicity.  God is weaving people together who would normally not be together ... and this challenges how we think about marketing in our ministries.  A link will be posted here as soon as the post is published.

Photo courtesy of renjith krishnan and http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Marketing and Evangelism



This post is the fifth post in a nine part Series: On Marketing and Ministry. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage.

A short while ago I ran across a comic book on evangelism from the 1970's called The Gospel Blimp (you can read it here).  The story is about a group of Christians who wanted to share the gospel with their next-door neighbors, so they bought a blimp (like the Goodyear blimp) and posted Bible verses on it.  The whole project backfired, as you can imagine.

These two lines are the highlights of the book:
The world needs to see a living witness ... not a gas bag.
Jesus Christ didn't commit the gospel to an advertising agency ... he commissioned disciples!!!

When we think about the intersection of marketing and evangelism, a lot of us think of blimps ... or billboards, commercials, tracts, or full-page ads.  But there's more to marketing than advertising. 

Here are three ways marketing can help our evangelism ...

1) View conversion as a journey

One of the core concepts of permission marketing is that you need to take people ... step-by-step ... through a journey of deeper engagement.  Whether it's an iPod to iPhone to iEverything or Large Group to Small Group to Discipleship, this concept proves not only helpful but practical.  It helps with both planting and building ministry.  Can this idea help with evangelism?

A few years ago, I ran into this idea - that conversion is a journey - in a book by Doug Schaupp and Don Everts: I Once Was Lost.  In the book, they talk about what they call "The Five Thresholds of Postmodern Conversion."

The long and short of it is that if you view conversion as a journey, evangelism takes on a whole new shape.  Instead of arguing and convincing and selling, we guide and model and invite.  And good marketing practice, in this scenario, puts manipulative techniques on the shelf and focuses on service.

2) Think about targets

One size very rarely fits all.  The marketing world challenges us to think about targets and audience and segmentation.  To whom am I communicating?  Who is this good or service right for?

When we think about evangelism, however, marketing language about segmentation sounds out of place.  The gospel of Jesus is for everybody, right?  But before we put this marketing concept back on the shelf ...

We can tweak our communication to our audience and still be faithful
We can focus our outreach to certain groups of people and still be bold
We can adapt to seasons of life and still be evangelistic

Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life ... for everybody.  I really believe that.  But God uses diverse means to communicate the gospel of Jesus.  Language, cultural forms, personal focus, timing and rhythm ... all these are up for grabs, none of these necessarily compromise the gospel of Jesus. 

Our evangelism will be deeply helped if we sensitively consider who we're targeting.

3) Identity, not just ideas

I remember the day I became open to being a Mac user, an iPerson.  I discovered iTunes and their free podcasts and was hooked.  Shortly afterward, I bought an iPod, lost an iPod, bought another, and had it stolen.  When I bought my last computer, I seriously considered buying a Mac instead of a PC.

This shift - from being closed to Mac to being open - happened slowly, over time.  I started to see myself as the sort of person who would use a Mac.  This was an identity shift.

So often, we present the gospel of Jesus as if it's just about ideas.  Believe this and believe that and you'll be a Christian.  But for many people, the things holding them back from Jesus have nothing to do with ideas. 

They aren't opposed to Jesus being God, they just don't see themselves as the sort of person who likes standing in rows singing high-pitched Chris Tomlin songs.  They don't doubt that they're sinners in need of a Savior, they just don't see themselves carrying signs that read "God hates _____."  They don't doubt that Jesus can change the world, they just don't see themselves pretending to be happy all of the time.

Our evangelistic efforts, informed by this insight, need to engage the realm of identity, as well as the realm of ideas.  Just as the iMagicians helped me begin to see myself as an iPerson, we can help people begin to see themselves as the sort of people who could fit with Jesus and this Christianity-thing.

[For more on this idea, check out this post from a while back: Belonging and believing.]

These three marketing ideas have greatly helped my evangelism over the past several years.  Journey, target and identity are powerful and easily applied ideas.  They've really helped me step out.

What's helped you be more evangelistic recently?

Tomorrow's post will focus on the intersection of Marketing and Discipleship.  When we disciple people, we invest our lives in them.  But for discipling to be powerful, we need to help them disciple others.  Marketing can help with this.  A link will be published here as soon as the post is published.

Photo courtesy of renjith krishnan and http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Marketing and Building Ministry



This post is the fourth post in a nine part Series: On Marketing and Ministry. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage.
What are your plans to grow your ministry?

At some point, you realize that people keep showing up at this thing you're doing.  Wouldn't it be great if more and more people were impacted?  Wouldn't it be great if more and more people dug in deeper with God, if they didn't just show up, but grew?

Thoughtful marketing is one of the factors that determines whether a ministry grows or plateaus, whether you build something lasting or build something shaky.

In yesterday's post on planting new ministry, I mentioned the concept of a spiral invitation process.  You invite them to a cookout, then they invite you to invite them to the next thing you're doing.  You invite them to something a little more close to the core of your ministry ... a Large Group meeting or a Sunday morning service.  They enjoy it and give you permission to invite them to other things you're doing.  It's a spiral ... or a tennis match on an elevator.

Now this may not sound like marketing to you.  It sounds like strategy.  But in our fast-paced, overloaded world, we need to link our marketing and our strategy.

Perhaps no one has articulated this need to move people step-by-step deeper into our ministries better than Andy Stanley and the folks over at Northpoint.  Check out this video where he explains the concept: Foyer, Living Room, Kitchen.

In his book on ministry strategy (Seven Practices of Effective Ministry), Stanley talks about how to design steps that lead people to engage more deeply with your ministry (you can read more here: How to Create an Effective Step).  Every step needs to be easy, obvious and strategic.

Don't make your steps too big.
Don't make your steps too confusing.
Don't make your steps away from the core of the ministry.

Quality marketing helps you realize when your steps are too big.
Quality marketing helps you make your steps clear.
Quality marketing makes sure people end up where they need to be.

When building ministry, here are Three Marketing Questions to ask:
  1. How are we communicating the next steps we want people to take?
  2. Can people involved in our ministry take the next steps (and are they)?
  3. If people take the steps we're asking them to take, where will they end up?
When building ministry, here are Four Marketing Tips that will help you a lot:
  1. Communicate the next steps more than you think you need to
  2. Use Sticky techniques to communicate next steps [see my bonus post: Sticky Next Steps]
  3. Track both where people are in your ministry and where they're headed (metrics matter)
  4. Make sure that, along the way, you include other people in the invitation spiral.  There's no race to the top.  People who are getting more involved can help others get more involved (and this causes ministries to grow).
One last thought ... ultimately, ministries grow as God mysteriously and graciously takes our best efforts and turns them into something special.  Apart from God, no amount of marketing or strategy will help you build this ministry.  As we work and plan, we need to be constantly aware of our dependence on God.  Prayer helps me with this.

How are you helping people to engage more and more deeply with your ministry?

In tomorrow's post, I'll turn my attention to Marketing and Evangelism. I think that this concept of permission marketing and step-by-step processes can revolutionize our engagement with this most intimidating aspect of following Jesus.  A link will be posted here as soon as the post is published.

Don't forget to check out the bonus post [Sticky Next Steps]

Photo courtesy of digitalart and http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Sticky Next Steps

Growing ministries offer easy, obvious, strategic Next Steps ...

From Ice Cream Social to Large Group to Small Group to Discipling
From Bible Study to Workshop to Leadership
From Sunday Morning to Community Group to Serving Team

But so often, people forget what the Next Step is ... or don't know that there's even a next step for them.  How many people do you know who belong to a church but only engage on Sunday morning, unaware that there are more opportunities to grow?

How can you change that?

Make sure your communication about Next Steps is sticky.

"Sticky" is a concept that started circulating several years ago, receiving clear articulation in the book by Chip and Dan Heath: Made to Stick.  In their book, they get to the bottom of why some ideas and messages stick and others don't.  This is particularly relevant to us as we communicate Next Steps.

To craft "sticky next steps" make sure your communication has these 6 Elements:

Make it Simple

Communicate exactly what they need to know to take the Next Step and nothing more.  Communicate one Step at a time, the Next Step.  Use simple and direct language to describe the Next Step.

Make it Unexpected

Don't communicate the Next Step the same way every time.  If you want people in Small Groups or Community Groups, don't just make an announcement.  Make a sermon illustration, a video, a sermon application, a contest, a party.  People expect Next Steps to come in announcement-form.  People forget announcements.  Go for the unexpected.

Another application of this idea is pretty complex, but I'll sketch it out.  One way to create surprise or unexpectedness is to make people aware of gaps in their knowledge or experience.  Show 'em what they don't know or can't do before you tell them about the Next Step.  This curiousity or sense of need will help them remember the Next Step.

Make it Concrete

Use multiple senses to demonstrate the Next Step.  Andy Stanley didn't just tell you to go from a big group to a medium sized group to a small group.  He talked about Foyer and Living Room and Kitchen.  His team built those environments on stage.

When we started getting serious about helping InterVarsity students step from Large Group to Small Groups, we had them turn their chair into a circle and meet some folks who they would be in a Small Group with.  This was way more effective than an announcement.

Make it Credible

This is where our "Don't ask people to do something you wouldn't do yourself" rule comes in so handy.  As you invite people to take Next Steps, you have a lot more credibility if you've taken them yourself.  On top of this, if the people communicating Next Steps are known to be people of character the communication will be a lot more sticky.

Lastly, create sample space.  Ask people to come to a Small Group once.  Pilot a one-week Bible Reading program.  Invite them to a one-time discipling meeting.  Asking for a huge commitment up front actually decreases credibility.

Make it Emotion-engaging

We remember things that tug on our hearts.  When communicating Next Steps, use language that tugs.  Don't just invite people to a discipling appointment, tell people you want to invest in their lives and to help them uncover the awesome things God has for them.

Too often, ministries use dry, short-hand ways of communicating Next Steps: Sunday School, mission trip, retreat, committee ... these are dead words.  Inject emotion and the Steps will stick. 

Tell a Story

Wrap all of this up in a story and your Next Step will stick.  Testimonies, illustrations, videos, interviews ... all these demolish announcements when it comes to communicating Next Steps.

This post is a bonus post in the Series: On Marketing and Ministry. For further development of the content, check out this post: Marketing and Building Ministry.

Marketing and Planting New Ministry


This post is the third post in a nine part Series: On Marketing and Ministry. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage.

We are naturally extremely conscious of marketing when we're planting new ministry.

We craft vision statements, design visual elements and logos, practice talking about our mission and vision.  So much marketing work goes into the launch of new ministry.

But have you ever seen this happen ...

A new ministry launches ... boom, boom, pow ... and then fizzles.

We think to ourselves "That ministry fizzled despite all that marketing."  But we're wrong.

Most ministry plants don't fizzle despite marketing, they fizzle because of marketing.

Actually they fizzle because of bad marketing. Bad marketing creates distraction, disappointment and ... well ... another dose of distraction [For more on this idea, check out my bonus post: 3 Ways Bad Marketing Kills New Ministry]

But good marketing ... permission marketing ... works like fuel for the fire. 

Permission marketing involves taking people through a process, a spiral invitation process (we invite them, they respond by inviting us to invite them again, to something more).  In the business world, people talk about turning strangers into customers into loyal customers into fans.  Marketers strategize how to take people step-by-step through this process.

Why should we be any less strategic?

When planting new ministry, here are Three Marketing Questions to ask:
  1. How are we inviting deeper levels of involvement with this ministry?
  2. What story are we telling to people who are new to this ministry?
  3. Who are we attracting through our stories about this ministry?
When planting new ministry, here are Four Marketing Tips that will help you a lot:
  1. Focus your energy / time on building relationships, not publicity
  2. Tell vision-casting stories about your new ministry as often as you can
  3. Do what you can do remarkably (this generates word-of-mouth marketing)
  4. Make all of your marketing messages personal (ie. no mass e-mail, mass text ... phone calls and face-to-face time are golden)
And, finally, let me tell you a story about marketing and planting new ministry to illustrate these concepts.

We're planting new ministry at Broward College Central this Fall.  When we decided to go for it, I was tempted to put all my energy into getting the word out, advertising on campus, creating a web presence.  But I know better.

I've picked two guys to build relationships with.  I'm spending what time I can with them sharing vision for the ministry and giving them my best ministry training.  We have no e-mail lists, no handouts, no flyers.  As our ministry grows, we will grow by word-of-mouth and multiplication.

Right now, the three of us are looking for the right people to connect with, a profile we call "missional Christians."  We're praying and keeping our eyes open.  In the next week, we'll have one Small Group up and running.  We'll invite the people we meet to come by once and check it out.  If they like it, we invite them to come back.  And over time, we'll build a ministry.

What would you have to change to include permission marketing when planting new ministry: relationship, vision, process?

Tomorrow's post will focus on Marketing and Building Ministry ... some thoughts on what you do marketing-wise once your ministry is up and running.  A link will be posted here as soon as the post is published.

Don't forget to check out the bonus post [3 Ways Bad Marketing Kills Ministry]

Photo courtesy of scottchan and http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

3 Ways Bad Marketing Kill New Ministry

Marketing can get people through the door.
Bad marketing sends them right back out.

Here's why ...

We can focus on the wrong things.

Planting new ministry is scary and tough to control.  When fear comes into play, many of us shift our focus to things we can control.  Advertising, logos, design ... details.

But in the planting phase of ministry, we need to focus on building relationships, casting vision, generating engagement.  It's not enough to get people to show up to the boat, we need to get them on board.  Relationship, vision, engagement.

Good marketing helps us do these things.  Bad marketing doesn't.

We can set wrong expectations.

Bad marketing tells people whatever story it takes to get them through the door.  It makes promises and over-promises.  It puts the best foot forward, but an unsustainable foot.

And if all this happens without relationship, your new ministry is doomed.

Few things kill ministry more quickly than broken promises and disappointment.

We can attract the wrong people.

It's tempting to think that, when planting new ministry, we need to take anyone we can get.  Beggars can't be choosy.  But you can't connect with everyone when you're planting a new ministry.

When planting new ministry, think about the profile of the people you need to be with you to build a foundation for the ministry.  Profile and target.  It feels weird and favoritistic to do, but this is the path you need to walk if you want to get something off the ground (and the reality is that the more narrow you are at the start, the broader you can be later).

And marketing sends signals, letting people know who we're looking for.

This post is a bonus post in the Series: On Marketing and Ministry.  For further development of the content, check out this post: Marketing and Planting New Ministry.

Why We Need Permission Marketing

This post is the second post in a nine part Series: On Marketing and Ministry. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage.

You get dozens, hundreds of marketing messages every day.

Commercials. Brand names. Logos. Billboards. Advertisements. Design elements. Social media. Product placement. Direct sales. Contact evangelism. Skywriting. Spam. Packaging. Walled gardens. Passive renewal. Flyers. Postcards. Posters. What did I miss?

Marketing shapes the way we view the world and interact with it.

But we're overwhelmed with marketing messages.  We can't listen to all the stories, buy all the products, pay attention to everyone who wants our attention.

And because our attention and resources are limited, marketers have taken to interrupting us. Hijacking our attention to get to our resources. And so we work hard to test and filter marketing messages.

The effective marketers today are the ones to whom we give permission: permission to tell us stories, permission to advise us to do things, permission to help us take next steps.  The best marketers earn our trust.

This perspective on the world of marketing was made elegantly and clearly by Seth Godin.  I've posted briefly about his impact on my ministry here [3 Things Seth Godin Taught Me About Ministry]. It's worth picking up his book Permission Marketing to hear him explain it [You can download a great, free sample of the book for your Kindle here: Permission Marketing (sample on sidebar)].

And this perspective on marketing - "Permission Marketing" - needs to color any conversation we have about marketing and ministry. 

When we talk about ministry and marketing, we aren't just talking about how to get our name out there more, how to capture more attention, how to build better interruptions.  We're talking about building trust, building relationship, taking people through a process, from step to step ... and all this for God and his kingdom.

We need this.

Many of our ministries struggle with revolving doors.  People come in and right back out.  We capture people's attention and then pour information at them until they get bored or tired and leave.  We long for people to engage deeply - to commit and grow spiritually - but we don't always see that happen.

Most ministries struggle to gain "permission."
The rest of us struggle to know what to do with "permission" when we get it.
And it's never occurred to us that we have a "marketing problem."

What would happen if you could close the revolving door in your ministry?

The next post in this series will talk about Marketing and Planting New Ministry. Good marketing practice can really help you when you're trying to get new ministry off the ground.  A link will be published here as soon as the article is published.

Photo courtesy of renjith krishnan and http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Series: On Marketing and Ministry



For many of us, "marketing" is a dirty word.

When we think of "marketing," we think of people convincing us to buy things we don't want with money we don't have to impress people we don't even like.  We think manipulation.

And all over the world there are people who equate ministry and manipulation.  They see religion and religious leaders preying on the weak, the hurting, the scared, the gullible.  And we want to distance ourselves from that misunderstanding of ministry.

But we can't avoid marketing.

We have to build relationships, tell stories, move people from Point A to Point B.  We have to grow and challenge and invite.  We have to engage in marketing.

The question isn't whether or not we will or won't, it's whether we'll do it well or poorly.

So, while I'm on vacation, I'm going to be sharing some thoughts on the intersection of marketing and ministry.  Theory and tips.  Things to think through, things to avoid. 

Here's the ground I'll be covering (links will be provided as content publishes) ...

Why we need Permission Marketing
Marketing and Planting New Ministry
Marketing and Building Ministry
Marketing and Evangelism
Marketing and Discipleship
Marketing and Multi-ethnicity
Marketing and Fundraising
Marketing and Theology

What do you think of when you think of marketing?

Photo courtesy of scottchan and http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Walking to church

I heard a new story about my Grandfather today.

After he and my Grandmother retired, they dropped down to one car.  And on Sundays, my Grandmother would head to church early to sing in the choir.  My Grandfather - not a choir guy - stayed home ... but not all morning.

He walked to church.

Walking to church fascinates me.  I wonder, would I do it?

A mile, a mile and a half, in a suit in the Florida heat ... and it's optional.

There's something special about a man who would be willing to walk to church.  For so many of us, having to walk would break the deal.  We would stay home, maybe read our Bibles and pray, but we wouldn't walk. 

In my work with InterVarsity in South Florida, I have several students who walk 20-30 minutes to catch a bus (another 20-30 minutes) in order to get to InterVarsity.  Last year, Leisa did that walk and took that bus to get to InterVarsity's meeting even though she didn't have class that day.

I'm so grateful to be around people who are so committed.

What do you think? Would you walk to church?

God is light ...

... in Him there is no darkness at all.

Or so says the Apostle John in 1 John 1:5.

This is such a relevant word for college students.

So many students think that God is both light and darkness.

They probably wouldn't phrase it that way: "light and darkness."  But dig a little bit and you'll see.  Fear.  Shame.  Trepidation.  "God may be good and helpful," they say "but he could also hurt you, embarass you, and drain the fun from your life."  Light and darkness.

A god of light and darkness is in many ways easier to believe in.  The world we experience contains both beauty and horror.  If there is one god in charge of it all, behind it all ... he must be into both light and darkness.  It makes sense.

But against this line of reasoning we have John's "God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all."  Light.  Pure light.  Not mostly light.  Not pretty light.  Light.

And so this reshapes our view ...

You don't need to experience evil to appreciate good. 
"God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all."

College doesn't have to be a time of experimentation.
"God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all."

Evil doesn't stand on equal footing with good.
"God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all."

Not all ideas in the Academy are created equal.
"God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all."

Life in Christ has to look holy and humble.
"God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all."

We need to be serious about following Jesus on campus.
"God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all."

What does it mean to us that God is light?

Should missionaries take vacation?

"What does someone like you do all week?"

I can't tell you how many times I've gotten this question (or some variant of it).

Missionaries and people in ministry do work that's a little hard to understand.  You see your pastor preach on Sunday, but don't see him all week.  You see a missionary even less (often just when they're in town fundraising).  This makes it tough to understand what we do all week.

Some folks actually think that ministry jobs are 2-3 hour a week jobs.  And why shouldn't they?  That's all they see us doing.  And, even more, there are churches all over the world and missions agencies all over the world that are led by folks who work bi-vocationally.

And this makes the whole idea of vacation a little weird.

InterVarsity gives us 20 days of vacation every year, but we also do the sort of salary work which never really gets done.  It's hard to get away.  Over the last 7 years, I've never taken all of my vacation days.  Never even taken half.  I feel weird taking vacation.

But those vacation days are there for a reason ...

Vacations keep us sane and rested
Vacations open up time for us to be with our wives and kids
Vacations serve as non-financial compensation
Vacations remind us that the ministry is not on our shoulders
Vacations give space for our leaders to lead
Vacations recharge us between seasons of ministry

What do you think?  Should missionaries take vacation?

A drizzle is not a soak

I finally took a closer look at my citrus trees today.  The pot was dry, the soil like sand.  Leaves drooped and turned colors and fell to the dry dirt.

It rained today.  It rained all week.  It rained all month.  Not a lot, but it did rain.

I counted on that rain to take care of those trees.  But the rain didn't work. 

If I didn't get out the hose and soak those trees, the soil would have pulled away from the side of the pot.  The roots would have grown toward the surface.  And the trees would have died.

How could we turn this into a spiritual parable?

Maximum Impact for Minimum Input

Have you ever felt spread thin ... like too little butter and too much toast?

So much of our ministry in South Florida is, by necessity, drive-by.  I don't have time to disciple all of the student leaders I'm responsible for.  I'm spread thin.

I can only provide a minimum input on campus.

And I need to get a maximum impact.  At some schools, I'll only be able to visit them twice this month.  But that doesn't change the need.  Our leaders need vision, encouragement, training.  And the campus needs our leaders running at full steam.

Maybe you have situations like this in your own life.  You have a few minutes, an hour, a day ... much less time than you'd prefer ... and you need to see a maximum impact.  Work.  Family.  Church.  Friendship. 

What do you do when you need maximum impact from minimum input?

Here are three things that help me when I can only make a minimum input ...

1) Be direct

As a Gen-Y postmodern and a Latino, I'm most comfortable leading in an indirect, relational context.  I want to talk about family and football before we get down to business.  And this is a very effective way to lead ... if you have the time.

When I'm pressed and stretched, I'm finding that I need to set the Socratic method aside and tell people what I think. And I'm finding that this is very effective.  When students know I just have a brief time with them, they appreciate me getting down to business.

2) Layer prep

I like to customize everything.  When I was focused on one chapter and a hand-full of students, I loved crafting mentoring sessions to each student's needs and opportunities.  It was special, fun.  And I would be doing it now ... if I had time.

I'm finding, however, that I can get some of the impact of customization by layering prep.  I can prepare three different modules, designed to help in focused areas ... and roll them out as needed. 

For years I looked down on this type of ministry, dismissed it as "cookie-cutter." But there's a reason we have cookie-cutters. Cookie-cutter cookies are better than no cookies.

For August and September, it's been Salt and Light Missionality, OIA Training and Principles for Spiritual Growth (not necessarily in that order).  There are a million things to talk about ... I'm just touching on three.  These three will have a big, multiplicative, strategic impact, even if they aren't the most urgent and timely conversations.

3) Encourage the heart

I'm still learning to do this, but I see that it's important.  When you only have a short window, try doing something to let your leaders know you appreciate them, you know them, you care about them.

When I visit my Staff team (which I am able to do so much less than I'd like), I try to feed them a good meal and point out something special they've done recently, some special contour to their ministry.  It's not enough to say "good job."  You have to be specific.

And don't undervalue the impact of showing that you pay attention.  Over the last year, one member of my team mentioned the Short Circuit movies a few times.  Old school, funny, do you remember them?  Over the summer, I got him a copy of the movies (on VHS, because that's what he uses at home).  I'm trying to show him I listen.  If he knows I pay attention in this small thing, maybe he'll know I care about him and how he's doing ... even if I can't be in the field with him every week.

What minimum inputs have you seen have maximum impact?

Remembering Random Things from 9/11

I remember random things from 9/11.

I was at Duke at the time.

I woke up early and headed over to the gym with Scotty.  We headed to the basement and jumped on the exercise bikes.

For some reason, the basement TVs only had two stations that day.  On the NASA station they were running a special on how the space station disposed with human waste.  Too much information for that early in the morning.

We turned on the Russian news station instead.

Even though we didn't understand Russian, it made for good background noise. 

After a few minutes, the news station showed what we thought was a trailer for the latest Hollywood blockbuster.  A plane flew into a burning building.  I remember turning to Scotty and joking that Hollywood special effects had a long way to go before catching up with real life.  I can't believe I said that.

The Russian news station kept showing the video, over and over and over.
And the anchor seemed to be taking this thing really seriously.

Over the next few minutes, it began to dawn on us that what was happening on the TV was also happening in real life.  We left the gym and spent the day trying to figure out what was going on.

I remember random things from 9/11.

I remember Dennis with tears streaming down his face, like he was standing in the rain.
I remember Shaun, convinced that Charlotte would be the next place to be attacked.
I remember Gary saying that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks.

I remember random things.  Do you?

What do you remember from 9/11?

A Heavy Sermon

I'm preaching at Crossway Church tomorrow ... and struggling.

Tomorrow is September 11th, the 10th anniversary.  And it feels like a big deal, a weight on my shoulders.  That weight sends my emotions swinging all over the place.  And I'm worried about how that will influence the sermon.

On top of that, I'm preaching on death, suffering, the Cross.  This is the next logical step in the series, but it's still heavy.  Even on a day filled with sunshine and football and no historical tragedy, this would be a heavy sermon.

The Bible has a lot of heavy passages and we tend to avoid them.

The material I'm preaching on tomorrow is unfamiliar to me.  I mean, I've been studying and studying and studying, but I've never heard a sermon referencing some of the passages I've been looking at.  Almost 30 years of going to church and none of these preachers mentioned these verses.  Maybe they knew something I don't.

What do you do when you have a heavy sermon to preach?
What do you do when you hear a heavy sermon?

Favorable reviews, but fake

I saw a product on Amazon today that had several five star reviews.  This caught my attention.

A five star review is a good review.  And the buyers thought enough of the product to write a paragraph or two to let us know how much the product meant to them.  Another good sign.  In a digital world, filled with anonymity, trust is tough to come by.  So, we rely on reviews.

But the reviews were fake. 

They used similar language, were posted on the same day (a few weeks ago) and ... the kicker ... the reviewers had only reviewed this one product.

Even if the reviews weren't fake, the product lost a lot of standing in my eyes.

Authenticity matters, even in a digital world.

Where have you seen people trying to fake it online?

3 Laws for Spiritual Growth

I had a great conversation with Kevin today, one of the students helping us plant new ministry at BC Central.  We were talking about how a person grows spiritually and this came up ...

In 1 Timothy 4:8 Paul compares spiritual growth with physical training.  And this always leaves me wondering, what if our spiritual growth echoed principles we use for physical training?

If I went to the gym and rolled up under the bench press and tried to lift 300 lbs, I'd be pretty frustrated.  I can't lift that much weight.  Trying again, trying harder ... it would make a difference.  I need a different approach.

But we don't follow the same principles when we think about spiritual growth.  We think we're supposed to do an hour-long quiet time every day and pray every day and give generously and not get angry at our friends or neighbors or dog.  We think we're supposed to live like Christ today ... but we don't.  None of us do.  Perhaps we can't, yet.

These 3 Laws will help you re-think your pursuit of spiritual growth ...

1) The Law of Small

If I struggle to lift 300 lbs, I'd change gears, start smaller.  I'd lift 150 lbs.  And then 155 lbs.  And on and on until I hit my goal.  That's the physical.  But what about the spiritual?

When we think of our spiritual lives, we often think of either / or.  We think in terms of sin and faithfulness.  Despite my poor track record, I still think that the only barrier between me and a perfect Christian life is one more try, with a little more effort.

But the Law of Small challenges this perception.  The Law of Small says ...

Start small.

Simple? I think so.

Want to spend an hour in Scripture every day?  Start with 5 minutes.
Want to pray for the whole world?  Pick a country.
Want to be a loving person?  Love your neighbor.

2) The Law of Indirect Effort

Want to bench 300?  Can't?  Try doing curls and flies.  That's the physical.

Spiritual growth benefits from this same principle.  Some call it "discipline."  When we think about discipline, we usually think about effort, rigidity.  "I need more discipline!"  But I've found another definition to be more helpful, and this is where we get to the Law of Indirect Effort ...

Discipline helps you do by indirect effort what you can't do by direct effort

This insight into spiritual discipline comes from Dallas Willard and John Ortberg.  They challenge our "try harder" mentality when it comes to the pursuit of a life that reflects Christ.  Instead, they encourage us to "train wisely."

Here's what this looks like ... Say you want to break the habit of looking at pornography (this is a frequent conversation on campus).  One approach would be to grit your teeth and just resist temptation.  Following the Law of Indirect Effort, however, you could install accountability software on your computer, restrict the locations you use your computer, memorize Scripture to help you resist temptation.

3) The Law of Undulation

A lot goes into how much weight you can lift.  Some days you can lift more than others.  Diet.  Rest.  Air temperature.  Yada yada yada.  That's the physical.

The same is true for our spiritual lives.  We have good days and bad days.  Even if the overall trajectory of our spiritual lives points toward growth, we'll have ups and downs.  That's normal.  Plan for it.  This is what CS Lewis called "The Law of Undulation" ...

Our spiritual growth does not progress smoothly or steadily.

When we're surprised by the ups and downs in our spiritual lives, we are tempted to scrap our intentional efforts to follow the Law of Small and the Law of Indirect Effort.  We're tempted to go big, thinking that it's either go big or go home.  But these bursts of panicked effort rarely help us.

In fact, these bursts of panicked effort reveal a crack in the foundation of our thinking about our own spiritual growth.  We put forward effort, but God grows us in his timing.  We are deeply loved and accepted by God, but remain sinners, carrying within us an indwelling resistance to the godly life.  Despite our ups and downs, God promises that we will grow if we remain in him.

What "laws" shape the way you think about spiritual growth?

Book Review: Evil and the Justice of God

The 10th anniversary of September 11th, 2011 is just around the corner.

When tragedies like this occur, what sort of questions do people ask about God?  Most of us ask "Why" questions.  "Why did God let this happen?  Why didn't God stop it?"  And, to our consternation, God doesn't seem to answer these "Why" questions.

This astute observation from NT Wright launches his Evil and the Justice of God.  God doesn't tell us why evil exists, at least not clearly or conclusively.  But through and throughout the Bible God does tell us what he's doing about evil.  God resists evil, limits evil, defeats evil and, ultimately, removes evil.

Throughout Evil and the Justice of God, Wright combines attention to the biblical narrative with theological depth and practical guidance.  This is one of the best books on the problem of evil I've ever read.

In the first chapter, he reflects on the way people nowadays wrestle with evil. 
In the next two chapters, he traces God's opposition to evil throughout the Bible.
In Chapter 4, Wright examines how God will finally rid the world of evil.
In the final chapter, Wright evaluates the role forgiveness plays in our thinking about evil.
He covers a lot of ground in five chapters and 165 pages!

Why you should read this book ...

Most of our responses to the problem of evil jump quickly to philosophy and theodicy (see CS Lewis' excellent The Problem of Pain or Henri Blocher's Evil and the Cross) or to pastoral concerns (see Lewis' A Grief Observed or the second half of Vanauken's A Severe Mercy).  But balancing the two has proved tricky.  Carson does it well in How Long, O Lord?, but few others do.  Wright nails it.

At some point, our answers to why God allows evil sound hollow.  The question behind the question is really "Does God care about the evil in the world?"  Reading Evil and the Justice of God will help you see how God demonstrates his concern about evil: first through Israel, then through the Church, but ultimately through Christ and the cross.

One last thought, Wright's chapter on forgiveness does as good a job as I've ever read connecting God's work in the world with our responsibility to forgive.  If you've ever wondered why Jesus was so adamant that his people would extend forgiveness to each other ("Forgive us our trespasses as we've forgiven those who trespass against us") ... this book will help you.  You may actually put the book down and reflect on a relationship that's been broken ... and respond in a way that you didn't think possible.

What resources have shaped your thinking about evil and the justice of God?

Finding Opportunities to Lead

*** This is a bonus post in a Small Group Leader Training series ***

Over the last two weeks I've tossed out a lot of information about Small Group Leadership: Group stages, adaptive leadership and a handful of helpful soft skills.

But how can you find a place to use what you've learned?

I'd encourage you to look first at your local community.  Does your church have Groups?  Keep your ears open and ask around to find out how your church selects and trains Leaders.  Offer to help.

Now, if it were that simple, there would be no need for me to write this.  But there are some special cases that are worth thinking about.

What if your church doesn't have Groups?

Here are two ideas ... start your own Group or volunteer with InterVarsity.

Starting a Group in your church is a great thing to do.  It can broaden and deepen the ministry of the church.  It can be the first step toward the church developing Groups.  You could break the ice! 

But know that your church may not be ready for Groups, or that Groups may not fit the strategy of the church.  That's okay.  Don't get frustrated.  Don't leave.  Just look for other options.

Ministries like InterVarsity are always looking for help (or should be).  What we could do with a dozen Small Group Leaders in South Florida!

What if your church doesn't allow people like you to lead?

"People like you" could cover a lot of territory.  Divorced.  Single.  Young.  Female.  New to the church.  Don't speak in tongues.  New believer.  No kids. 

Our temptation when we encounter a closed door is to bang on the door and scream.  Or to do the Protestant thing and look around for another church, a place where we can lead.  But is that the right decision?

Try asking yourself these questions before you "yell or leave" ...
  • Is this limitation missional?
  • Is this limitation wise?
  • Is this limitation permanent or temporary?
  • Is this limitation biblical?
  • Is this limitation communicated with grace and love?
  • Is this limitation open for discussion?
You might be surprised when you ask these questions.  A time may come when you need to "yell or leave" ... but every closed door should not signal "yell or leave" to us.  Asking these questions will slow you down enough to make a wise decision as to your next step.

What if the leaders in your church want you to wait?

"Wait" is a four-letter word, especially for us 20somethings.  We feel hurt, insulted, confused, bored ... we don't wait well.  Waiting is especially hard when, all around us, people tell us to "Go, go, go."

And I realize that we in InterVarsity at times feed that tension.  We equip and engage Leaders so quickly ... we struggle to teach our students to wait.  As a second semester freshman, you really could be ready to lead a Group on campus, but not in the church. 

While you wait to lead, keep looking for a place to serve.  Leaders in the Christian community are Servants first.  And we don't have to be Leaders ... not now, not ever.  Move chairs.  Help with the kids.  Pass out flyers.  Pitch in wherever you can.

-----------------------------

Finding opportunities to lead can be tough.  But it's worth keeping your eyes open, intentionally searching for places to contribute.  All over the country ... all over the world ... there are people hungry for community, desperate to connect with God in some kind of Group.  They're just waiting for someone to Lead.

What has your experience been like, trying to find opportunities to lead?

Soft Skill #3: Initiative

This post is the tenth post in a ten part series ... Small Group Leader Training. For more posts in this series check out the series frontpage.

A Leader needs to take initiative ... but in a healthy way.

The last two posts - focusing on Invitation and Investment - related most directly to the early life-stages of a Group.  But this soft skill - Initiative - runs through the entire time.

As Group Leaders, many of us find ourselves rocked back into a passive stance.  We respond to the Group.  "Who is hurting? Who needs help?  Who is in a talkative mood today" we find ourselves asking.  We go with the flow ... or think we do.

But we often forget that we're knee deep in the work God's doing in someone's life.  God has taken initiative to grow and change and transform these people he loves.  And God's work, his initiative is being actively opposed, opposed by the system and The Man and the satan and even the hearts of these people we've come to care for.

So, the flow can't be trusted.

The person who's hurting and is vocal about it may not be the only hurting person in the room.  They person asking for help may not actually need it.  Our talkative savior, who rescues us from the bondage of awkward silence, may be short-circuting something bigger God is doing through the silence.

So, we have to take initiative ... active, not just passive ... but we have to do this in a way that reflects the bigger work that God is doing.  Our initiative as Leaders has to follow his initiative as Savior and Redeemer.

As such, we have to become brave interpreters of God's activity in the lives of the people in our Group.  We can't settle for cheap answers to the question "What's God doing in your life?" and we can't neglect that question. 

This stance, one of initiative, is hardest to take during the Live-it-up stage in the life of a Group.  The Group feels like it can run itself.  You're guiding.  You don't want to get in the way.  And I don't want you to get in the way.

But in our role as Leaders, we have to become experts at identifying the work of God, communicating the initiative of God, and pushing our Group to follow God in what he's doing.

Sometimes this looks like challenging the Group to do a service project.
Sometimes this looks like throwing a party to celebrate someone's sobriety.
Sometimes this looks like writing a letter, a concrete reminder of God's work.
Sometimes this looks like leading a retreat, to get space to reflect on God's work.

Through it all we as Leaders take initiative, distrustful of the flow, confident that God is doing something, something special and worth paying attention to.

Where do you see God at work in the lives of people in your Groups?

Soft Skill #2: Investment

This post is the ninth post in a ten part series ... Small Group Leader Training. For more posts in this series check out the series frontpage.

I still remember learning about the magic of compounding interest.  A little bit of money, pocketed away, earning interest, becomes a great deal of money given enough time.  Drip.  Drip.  Drip ... no ... not quite.  A snowball ... better.  A dollar saved today is worth two dollars in 14.2 years. 

Deposits you make today will pay dividends tomorrow.

The same is true in our Groups.  Investing relationally into the lives of the people in your Group at the beginning of your Group is one of the secret ingredients to having a great Group.

Investing relationally means taking the time to really, deeply get to know the people in your Group.  Ideally, it also means to help the people in your Group know you deeply.

But here's the problem ... growth in relationships takes a long time in the Group.  Everyone shares, so it's hard to share at length.  The Leader models a level of engagement that's comfortable for people who don't know each other well, so we get to know each other slowly ... surely ... but slowly. 

It's a tension.  The quicker you get to know the people in your Group, the better your Group will be, but sharing in the Group can't go too deep too quick without creating unhealthy dynamics in the Group.

What do you do?

A Group Leader has to invest in the lives of the people in the Group ... and this has to happen apart from the regular times the Group gathers.

At this point, we roll our eyes, sigh, groan ... where will I find the time for more meetings?

Leading a Group well is hard work.  It takes time and energy and consumes a lot of you.

But it's worth it.

Here are some tips to help you make that extra, early investment in the lives of the people in your Group and keep your sanity / family / job / GPA (at least, part of it) ...

Do what you're going to do anyways

Everybody's gotta eat.  Find a way to leverage lunch or dinner in those first few weeks to connect with people in your Group.  This is the quickest and easiest way for me to invest relationally in people.

But it's not the only way.  Bill Robinson, my friend and the guy who trained me to work with InterVarsity, had a million ways to do this.  He took people with him to run errands (oil change, grocery store, etc ...).  He went to Tech games with people.  He played cards, grabbed coffee, went walking and jogging and running, dates with his wife, attended church and sat somewhere with purpose, served the community, played golf, watched movies ... all with people.  He was going to do all of that stuff anyways, he just did it ... intentionally ... with people.

Be strategic about who you invest in

If your Group is too big for you to be able to get face-time with everyone at once, think strategically about who you invest in in those first weeks. 

Who are the people you can invest in who will invest in others?
Who are the people who would really benefit from you investing in them?
Who are the people who will be the most fun to invest in?

The answers to those questions may not all be the same ... that's okay.  There's not one strategy that's the best for investment.  But there's probably a strategy that's the best for you and for your Group.  Take time to think about it.

So often, we Leaders just respond to emergencies and spend time with the people who initiate with us.  And we have to respond.  But that doesn't mean we can't initiate.  (Hint: use the 3 questions above to draw a Venn diagram ... yes, I read Indexed).

Know and play to your limits

I hate to see Leaders burn out.  And this is an arena where it's easy to burn out.  You invest and invest and invest and don't have enough left over at the end of the month to pay the metaphorical water bill. 

As an introvert, I find leading Groups exhausting.  When I led the 20somethings Group in Virginia, after the Group I spent the rest of the night wired and frazzled, like a robot with an electrical short.  I slept deeply that night and needed some space to not talk to anyone that next morning.  But it was so much fun!

Being an introvert didn't mean I couldn't invest relationally in my Group.  It just meant I needed to invest in an introvert-y way.  During our meetings, I would spend all of my energy, catching up and listening and talking with the crowd.  But I'd also pull people aside for one-on-one conversation (in the kitchen, around the dining room table).  And when the night was through, I'd use my introvert tricks to recover.  And during the week, I'd pursue relational investment in quiet places ... over dinner at our house, over a game of cards, on a walk.  And it worked.

Extroverts have their own struggles, I assume.  I feel like the nerdy guys saying that he's sure the quarterback prom-king has some life-difficulties too ... I'm just not sure what they are (Any extroverts want to pitch in here?).

Lastly, think "Sprint" not "Marathon"

If the best value for investment is early, don't try to set a sustainable pace.  Sustainable paces kill Groups.  They sound like a strategy to avoid burnout, but they actually contribute to it.

Think about it, how exhausting is it to lead people you don't know?  You misinterpret their cues, stumble across landmines in their personal stories, confuse them ... it's hard.  But a big down payment helps.  As you get to know the people in your Group, you start to like them, start to care about them and leading becomes a joy.  There's little joy in leading people you don't know.  Just burnout.

Try saying to yourself "I'm going to pack my schedule for the next two weeks, then dial back to a more reasonable pace."  Knowing when to sprint and when to jog makes a huge difference.

You don't have to sustain the pace forever.  But, at the beginning of your Group, go all out!

Who has invested in you?  How did they do it?

Soft Skill #1: Invitation

This post is the eighth post in a ten part series ... Small Group Leader Training. For more posts in this series check out the series frontpage

Group Leaders need all kinds of soft skills.  These skills grease the gears in our Groups.

As an introvert, some of the soft skills have been really difficult for me to get.  I'm shy ... talkative when the ice has been broken, but so hesitant at first.  And the soft skill I've had to work hardest on is the skill of Invitation.

The number one reason anyone comes to anything is because someone invites them.

We like to think that advertising and marketing will pull people into our Groups.  And sometimes that happens.  A flyer at church.  A poster on campus.  An announcement.  But for every person who gets plugged in as a response to marketing, there are a dozen who won't come unless they get a meaningful, personal invitation.

So, how do you give a meaningful, personal invitation?

1) Get to know the person you want to invite

I find people fascinating.  Their personal history, what they're learning, the things that interest them ... don't you love to crawl inside someone else's brain and peek at the world through their eyes ... amazing!

That seed of relationship, getting to know the person you want to invite, lowers the barrier to invitation.  It makes an invitation personal.

Learn a name.  Hear a story.  Share one in return.  And you're on your way.

2) Describe your Group ... what you do, what you're about

As we're inviting people into our Groups, it's easy to forget that they may not understand what it is we're asking.  So many people have never been a part of a good Group.  And even more have never been a part of a Group at all.

Telling what it is your Group does (what to expect if you come) and why your Group does it helps people understand why you're inviting them.

"A Group of us get together once a week, have dinner, read a passage from the Bible and talk about it.  It's a fun time and a great way to grow in your faith ... " Something as simple as that helps so much!  It makes a personal invitation more meaningful.

3) Clearly and directly invite them

As a pretty indirect person, I have to keep reminding myself of this. We assume people will know that they're invited, but they don't.  People can misinterpret our signals if we're not clear and direct.

And I see this in my own life.  From time to time I hear people having a great time and I feel sad that I'm not included.  And sadly, I may have been invited, just not directly.  Maybe there was an announcement I missed.  Maybe they told me about what they were doing and were surprised I didn't ask for details.

"We're meeting Monday at 7 at such and such a place.  Would you like to check it out?" 

4) Pause, listen and let them respond

My instinct after I give an invitation is to immediately start verbalizing all of the reasons they might not be able to come.  "I know things are busy with school and Monday night football starts and you've got kids and that new job must be crazy and it might rain and I'm younger than you and you might not even be interested in something like this and there are great Groups and churches and other ministries on campus and they might meet at a better time and have cooler people and I really like them too ... so ... no pressure."

Just wait.  Let them think about it.  Let them ask you clarifying questions.

An invitation isn't a sales pitch. 

Our Groups are an environment where we encourage people to grow in their relationship with God.  Ultimately, God takes responsibility for our growth, working in us even as we work out our salvation.  And he's the one who brings people to our Groups.  We just invite.

What else do we need to think about when making meaningful, personal invitations?

Visioneering: Leadership in the Wrap-up

This post is the seventh post in a ten part series ... Small Group Leader Training. For more posts in this series check out the series frontpage

In his book by the same name, Andy Stanley unpacks how we as leaders engineer a vision (ie. Visioneering).  It takes work, good timing and foresight.

And here's the problem.

Most of us have some sort of vision for our Groups.  We know what we want them to look like, why we want them to exist.  We plan for them to be born (Start-up) and for them to struggle through adolescence (Shake-up) and for them to thrive (Live-it-up). 

But our Groups can't go on forever.

Groups, whether they're Small Groups or Community Groups or Life Groups or City Groups, they all end at some point.  Some of us have natural breaks (semesters).  Some of us don't.  It doesn't matter.  At some point, you look around and you know that it's over (or should be over).  This is the Wrap-up.

And, at that point, we scramble.

I remember frantically trying to get my Group members to connect with another Group before mine flamed out.  I really cared for these people and knew that they needed to be connected to a Small Group (Full disclosure, I think God wants everyone in a Small Group ... I'm crazy ... and I've written about it here).  I was moving and couldn't continue leading the Group.  It had to end.

What I wouldn't give to circle back around to that time!  Actually, to 6 months before that time.  Things could have been so different.  Neater.  Cleaner.  More peaceful.  Multiplicative rather than fragmentary.

Instead of panicking, I could have been doing something productive.  I could have been Visioneering.

Engineering a vision for Groups is a must-do as Leaders enter the Wrap-up.

It wouldn't hurt our Leaders to pick up a copy of Stanley's book and there are great summaries available on-line, but here are a "few" vision engineering practices that help during the Wrap-up:
  • Make sure you notice what God had done in the lives of your people
  • Communicate to your people how God has been at work in and through their lives 
  • Help your people see the role of the Group in that work
  • Pray for your people
  • Talk to your people about the need for community
  • Share how you think your people could serve in future Groups
  • Train your people to serve and lead, give 'em experience
  • Speak highly to your people about other Leaders and other Groups
  • End on good terms with your people
  • Discuss explicitly the plans your people have to connect with a new Group
  • Celebrate with your people
  • Remind yourself that "your people" are not, ultimately, "your people"
Ultimately, we're engineering "a clear mental picture of what could be, fueled by the conviction that it should be" (Stanley).  Our people may be tempted to be done with Groups after ours.  After all, we're such great Leaders!  But that's not the future we prefer for them.

God plants us in community, in "Small" community.  The people we love, he plants them in community too.  Ending well, then, is recursive ... it catapults these people we love into new, God-centered community, fresh and starting up.

You may be tempted to think that all of this vision-casting and vision-creation stuff belongs at the beginning of the life of a Group.  And it does belong there, at least in part.  But now is the time to do it.  Now, when the Group knows what Group-life can look like.  Now, when we've seen what God can do.  The Wrap-up of a good Group is the best time to cement our commitment to community.  And this lays the ground for future Groups.

Leadership in Groups, then, is cyclical.  And the last stage of this cycle includes the vision needed to provide momentum to the next. 

How have you seen Groups do the Wrap-up?