Note: This article is excerpted from our resource Improving Communication for Effective Small-Group Ministry.
When is the last time you heard a small-group director or pastor say, "I don't really care what our leaders do as long as they show up with a pulse and clothes on."? I imagine this isn't a common experience.
Instead, we all have aims for our ministries, and we have a longing desire for our people to "get it." We want our leaders, coaches, apprentices, small-group participants, and weekend attendees to really get what we are about. But how do we communicate our values in a way that is compelling and clear?
Know Your Values
At Community Christian Church, a multi-site church with 12 locations around Chicago, we have three values we want every small group to live out. We refer to these values as the Jesus Mission: Reach, Restore, Reproduce.
- Reach people far from God. Alan Hirsch, co-author of On the Verge with Dave Ferguson, suggests that 60 percent of people will never enter the doors of our current forms of church. Because of that, we need to allow our imaginations to be profoundly shaped by the doctrine of Missio Dei—the incarnation of God in Jesus, God sending us as he sent himself in Jesus. Matthew 28 says to "Go!" and we are challenging ourselves at COMMUNITY to be a church who will reach people who are far from God.
- Restore God's dream for the world. A common perception among non-Christians is that Christ-followers talk about poverty and justice issues, but don't do much to address those issues. However, as we read Luke 4:17-18, it is clear Jesus expects us to change that perception: "The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.'" It is our mission at COMMUNITY to be a people who restore God's dream for the world.
- Reproduce the mission in others. If we are going to live the Jesus Mission and go to "to the ends of the earth," we have to find a way that results in rapid reproduction and exponential growth. When we follow the biblical example from 2 Timothy 2:2, the result can be the beginning of a missional church movement. It is through apprenticeships that we will reproduce the mission in others.
Communicate Your Values
To have values like these is one thing, but communicating them to your leaders is another. Here are five tools we've found helpful.
Every month we bring together our apprentices, leaders, coaches, and staff for Leadership Community. At Leadership Community, we facilitate an environment of learning, coaching, inspiration, and encouragement. Carl George talks about this in The Coming Church Revolution and suggests a format he calls VHS (vision, huddle, skill). This is the format we build upon. We want to make sure we provide a time of vision casting, a time of coaching or encouragement, and a time of training at each Leadership Community gathering.
Leadership Community helps take the values we have and inspires people to get it! We tell stories of groups who are living out the values of Reach, Restore, and Reproduce. When we have a group that is engaged in the community, a group that is helping people find their way back to God, or a group that has an apprentice that is being developed to start a new group, we tell the story through an interview format either in person or on video. These real-life stories reinforce our values.
Over the years I have underestimated the value of writing things out. I thought we could effectively meet our ministry aims through one-on-ones and centralized training. But after a while we just had too many coaching topics to cover, too many things we wanted all our leaders to know, and too little time to schedule that many meetings. We began experiencing a diminishing return on our vision and values. This led us to sit down and write out what we believe in most. We came up with three key products to get the word out about our values: Apprentice Field Guide, Small Group Leader Field Guide, and Coaching Handbook.
Even if your church isn't putting together books or manuals like these, don't underestimate the value of brochures, booklets, and flyers that explain key components of your ministry.
This one is probably least utilized, but is one of the most effective. How many times a day do you update you Twitter status, review your Facebook news feed, or catch the latest news on your USA app? These types of digital habits have created new places where we can meet our leaders—on the web, through a Smartphone, through a Mac or PC. We need to be aware of the daily digital habits of our leaders so we know how to effectively meet them. I would suggest taking a quick survey of your leaders and staff to determine what the most effective digital mediums are to communicate your values.
At COMMUNITY our mission is helping people find their way back to God, and everyone who attends knows it. We've done this largely by creating a common language. When we explain Scripture at weekend services, we talk about people finding their way back to God. When individuals share their stories, they talk about finding their way back to God. When we speak about reaching people far from God, one of our three values, we put it into the terms of helping people find their way back to God. In small groups, in training sessions, in one-on-one relationships, this language has become embedded in us, and the more we use it, the more it reminds our small-group leaders, and everyone else, what our mission is.
Multiple Learning Styles
We recognize that there are four different types of learners.
- Classroom Learners: individuals who like to sit in a classroom and take notes feverishly
- Self-learners: individuals who like to learn on their own time at their own pace
- Experiential Learners: individuals who would rather just learn by doing
- Mentoring Learners: individuals who prefer to meet one-on-one with someone to "get it"
Knowing that these four types of learners exist, we try to take advantage of many mediums in order to educate our people about what we value most. So maybe a simple exercise for you and your ministry is to go through how you are doing in providing opportunities each of these areas. Circle the number that best describes your ministry's use of these mediums. 1 - no opportunities, 5 - a diverse array of opportunities
Mediums for Classroom Learners (trainings, Leadership Community, etc.)
Mediums for Self-learners (blogs, websites, manuals, books, etc.)
Mediums for Experiential Learners (apprenticing in small group, role playing, etc.)
Mediums for Mentoring Learners (one-on-one apprenticing meetings, etc.)
Once you've evaluated your strengths and weaknesses you can assess where you need to focus more energy.
See the Results
When you know your values and use these five tips to communicate them clearly, your leaders will not only fully understand your vision, they'll also begin reproducing it in others. While this kind of communication may feel like it takes a lot of time and effort, it's worth it when you see small-group leaders embrace your vision and lead groups that are living out your values.
—Eric Metcalf is the director of New Thing, a church-planting network, and attends Community Christian Church; copyright 2012 by Christianity Today.
- Are you clear on your values and vision? If not, how can you set aside time to spend thinking them through? Who else might need to be involved?
- Which of the five tools presented especially catch your attention? How can you begin implementing them into your ministry?
- After taking the short quiz, what are your results? Which learning styles to you tend to cater to? Which ones do you neglect?