Building a Small Group Story Brand – Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I wrote about how I discovered that our Small Group system was trying to solve the wrong problem based on the Storybrand framework developed by Donald Miller. In this post I want to show you how we went about identifying our current problem (which we were not solving) and to identify the problem we needed to solve going forward.

The 2 Problems that Small Groups wrestle with

As I finished up chapter 5 of Building a Story Brand I immediately began wrestling with the material that was presented. In this chapter, Miller talked about the key to the entire Storybrand framework which was ‘the problem’. As I began to think about ‘a problem’ and ‘the solution’ that we were offering. it dawned on me that most Small Groups are trying to solve one of two problems. The first problem is community. We know that people feel isolated and alone in and off themselves and if they can join with others, it will unlock their desire to be known and loved. The second problem is discipleship. We are all broken and sinful people by nature. It is only when we accept Jesus Christ as our savior and begin to follow him as a disciple can we begin to take steps to work on the shortcoming of our life. If these problems sound familiar, it’s because they are the same problems that many people who lead Small Groups have wrestled with. This was not unique to our situation. What was unique was that the people who attend our church and live in our area did not identify with the problem we were trying to solve.

Houston, we have a problem

Our church is located in the suburbs of Houston, TX. Houston is the 4th largest city in the US and is ranked as the most diverse city in America. The communities surrounding our church are filled with what are known as ‘master-planned communities’. These are housing communities surrounded by parks, shopping, recreation, and schools so that you never have to leave your neighborhood to get what you need. As a result you get to know your neighbors and the people who live around you pretty well. Also as a result of the diversity of our city, many people of the same ethnic group and culture will seek out and build relationship with each other. Here in lies our problem. We had been presenting the problem to our community as they were lonely and needed to make friends with other people. Our community was telling us through their lack of response that they did not have a community problem. Our community had a discipleship problem.

Settling on the right problem

There is was! The problem that we needed to solve going forward. Once we were able to flesh this out, some pretty amazing things started happening. People were coming up to us and telling us about their desire to ‘grow deeper’. Leaders where catching us in the halls and tells us they were feeling the pull of God to lead a ‘deeper kind of Small Group’. Our leadership team was expressing their vision for our ministry to include ‘preparing and equipping people to be disciples’. It’s no coincidence that all this was taking place because we had correctly identified the right problem our groups needed to solve.

Where do we go from here?

Were far from done! In fact, we haven’t even started taking our first steps as a ministry yet. So you might be reading this and you are asking yourself “how can I learn from what you did’? Great question! Here are my list of recommendations:

  • Buy a copy of Building a Story Brand and read it with your Small Group team. If you are flying solo, buy the book and start taking notes.
  • Engage in conversations with the people at your church. Ask them ‘why’ they are in a small group? Or the inverse ask them why they are not in small group?
  • Take time to really process through the idea of your message and are the people at your church listening. Have you been offering groups for some time now, but you are not seeing any growth in engagement? This might be a sign that your message is not connecting.
  • Engage with me others about what you are processing. If you are going through this with a team, schedule time to talk and debrief together. If you are flying solo, feel free to email me and I will be glad to engage in dialogue with you.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Donald Miller for his book and for helping our church think through our message. My prayer is that it will also be a source of encouragement and clarity for you as you look to engage your church in being in a Small Group.


Building a Small Group Story Brand – Part 1

A few weeks ago I purchased a copy of Donald Miller’s new book ‘Building a Story Brand‘ because I saw that others on social media where recommending it. Selfishly the reason for my purchase was to check off a goal for the year of reading a certain number of books, but once I got into it, I found it was so much more. I was recently asked to share what I discovered from reading this book and I will attempt to do so in this post. Stick with me because I will have to lay some ground work, but I hope to show you when I am finished that this book is a must read for Small Group pastor’s and point people.

Why aren’t people joining?

As I was looking through Amazon and social media to purchase a book that would get me to fulfilling my goal, I ran across this new book by Donald Miller. I had heard Donald speak at Catalyst Cincinnati in 2016 on this very subject and I was very interested in hearing more about it. The thing that sold me on the purchase and the thing that makes this book so important is the subtitle ‘Clarifying your message so Customers Will listen’. At the same time as I was preparing to purchase the book, our Small Groups team had been making plans for 2018. We also had been looking at numbers and outcomes from 2017 and began to ask the question ‘why aren’t more people joining a Small Group?’

I began looking at our message ‘Join a Small Group’ through the lens of Miller’s StoryBrand framework. In this framework (which he describes in the book) the goal is to take your company, organization, product, etc and look at it through the lens of a story. Every story, Miller writes, follows a predictable pattern and includes a hero and a guide. The hero (the customer) has a problem that they must solve and needs the assistance of a guide (that’s you!) to help them. I immediately resonated with the members of our church being the hero and our Small Groups being the guide in the story, but I became stuck on the problem. I was convinced that we were trying to solve the wrong problem.

Identifying the problem

In our marketing and the language that we had been using about Small Groups, we had gravitated to using phrases like ‘join a Small Group because it is the place that you are going to meet and make friends’ and this was falling on deaf ears. What I had identified through Miller’s Storyboard framework was that we had been trying to solve the wrong problem. Our ‘customers’ did not want to ‘buy’ the solution we were selling by joining a Small Group.

To often in our approach to encouraging people to join a Small Group we fail to answer the crucial question of ‘why’. Just like the consumer at the store choosing between buying product A & B, we need to give them a convincing reason to buy what we are selling. With so many forces and factors in play for the people in our churches time and attention, ‘we have to speak to the parts of their brain that make it easy for them to digest’.

Survive & Thrive

In pages 6-7 of Building a Story Brand, Miller relates a conversation that he had with Mike McHargue about how the human brain processes information. Reckoning back to our first class in Psychology 101, McHargue re-acquaints us with Abraham Maslow. If you need a refresher, Maslow said that there was a pyramid that built on each other and it all centered on fulfilling certain needs and our brains are ‘wired’ to do this without a second thought. The first of these needs being survival. Then it is safety. Then our brains turn to relationships and once our relationships are taken care of, then it turns it attention to ‘pursuing a greater sense of meaning’.

The problem we encounter is that our message to our customers does not meet the framework that our simple brains are trying to pursue–survive and thrive. As a result it is ignored. This was our reality. We had failed to understand what message need to be communicated to people so they would, at a subconscious level, want to buy our product.

So what did they want to buy? How could we reframe our message to better communicate the problem they need us to solve?

In part 2, I will diagram how we went about identifying our current problem (which we were not solving) to identifying the problem we needed to solve going forward.