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.

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