each year, for the past 8 or so, about 20 middle school ministry specialists from around north america have gathered for a few days of fun and discussion. this year’s participants were: myself, Corrie Boyle (Mars Hill Bible Church, Grand Rapids, MI), Kurt Brandemihl (Sunset Presbyterian Church, Portland OR), Jeff Buell (McKinney Memorial Bible Church, Fort Worth, TX), April Diaz (NewSong Church, Irvine, CA), Ken Elben (Christ United Methodist Church, Memphis TN), Heather Flies (Wooddale Church, Eden Prairie, MN), Andy Jack (Christ Church of Oak Brook, Oak Brook, IL), Mark Janzen (Willingdon Church, Burnaby, BC), Kurt Johnston (Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA), Brooklyn Lindsey (Highland Park Church, Lakeland, FL), Sean Meade (Stuck in the Middle, Andover, KS), Alan Mercer (Christ Community Church, Leawood, KS), Jason Raitz (Willow Creek, S. Barrington, IL), Alan Ramsey (Fellowship Evangelical Free Church, Knoxville, TN), Ken Rawson (First United Methodist Church, Wichita, KS), Nate Rice (Forest Home Ministries, Forest Falls, CA), Christina Robertson (Journey Community Church, La Mesa, CA), Johnny Scott (Jr High Believe, Oronogo, MO), Nate Severson (Hillcrest Covenant Church, Prairie Village, KS), Phil Shinners (Mariners Church, Irvine, CA), and Scott Rubin (Willow Creek, S. Barrington, IL).
for the past few years, we’ve invited a guest to join us for a half day, to present some stuff that would become discussion fodder for the rest of our time. we’ve had chap clark, scot mcknight, an adolescent brain specialist, and christian smith.
this year, our guest was dave gibbons, pastor of newsong church in irvine, CA, and author of the monkey and the fish. we talked about third culture, adaptability, leadership, fringes and vortexes, and a variety of other stuff.
i’ll be posting edited notes from our discussions here in a series of posts. our hope is that these discussions will be helpful to others also…
this last post in this series is our discussion about R&D and ministry to/on the fringe:
What are some of our swirling vortexes and/or what are some of the things on the fringe that we need to be fueling? R&D (research and development) – what would it look like to have an R&D department built into our ministry?
Define: Fringe = marginalized – R&D is a principle of “release early and release often” because often times we don’t do something until we have it all figured out and this tends to kill innovation. If we are to honor our past and not blow up all we are currently doing in order to change everything, we also need to have something coming that will sustain us when the vortex of what we are currently doing subsides.
Kurt J: We are talking about some change. The decision we made was to allow parents and kids to choose what type of small group they are in. Instead of having ten kids in a group who are all over the map, each group is formed around a “depth” and allow kids to choose the type of group they have. The first option will be a “connecting” group that will be about 20 kids that might be 70% hanging out and 30% growing in Bible study etc… The second option would be a “growing” group where there might be 30% hanging out and 70% Bible study. The idea is full of potential problems, but it seems like there are some benefits that we could gain from.
MarkO: Sure there will be things that are not going to work and problems, but how will we figure it out unless we try it. In some places not having it all figured out might be a problem, but in others it may be a struggle to do something without having all the kinks worked out before you roll it out.
Nate R: How much “R” did you put into this? If we do our homework, things like this can come off much better.
Kurt J: We don’t need a bunch of research to make a change. Our leadership trusts us enough to know what we should be doing. There are going to be issues, but the tension we feel is when our groups are filled with kids who are all over the map on how much they want to grow and even that seems to change weekly. Is there a way to give kids a better small group experience?
Jason R: One of the biggest struggles is communicating expectations because most parents would want a “growing” group for their kids when many of them should be in “connecting” groups.
MarkO: It sounds like we are talking about moving the vortex. But the whole point of working with the fringe is more about starting something small and allowing it to fail or succeed. The fringe idea is not if you are going to change ALL your small groups, but rather, will you change two of your small groups to see if what your idea is might work. It’s beta testing.
Johnny S: We just don’t do this well, we typically change everything.
*So who is doing something this fits this – is truly fringe?
Brook: We’ve started looking at our leaders more like “what can you give and how can I use that?” Rather than “this is what I want/need, will you do it?” We need to listen to what they are passionate about and plug that in.
*We need to talk about the process we use to get fringe things going, not specifically talking about what we are doing.
Heather: Our divorce care group would fall into this because we tried it for a short period of time. It started because of the number of phone calls I was making and the kids I was working with who all deal with the same thing. So, we “pilot” a three week program and if it works we keep it going and if it bombs, it dies. Our church is big into the “pilot” type thing. At the end of the three week gig we evaluated and decided to move it to Wednesday night before program because the three weeks went well, but that bombed. In the midst of this though we found some great things that were really helpful.
The idea was to start support groups and this was the first one. There are so many support groups for adults, but none for the kids.
Phil S: Kurt J has a system of “streams of feedback” so that people can really communicate with you.
Brook: Paying attention to signals and allowing people to speak and I need to listen.
Andy J: How do we get that feedback? Triangulate with students, parents, and your volunteers. Run ideas past all three groups and see where they come down on ideas.
Phil: That’s a different stage of R&D – that’s more focus groups rather than getting the ideas in the first place.
Kurt J: The trouble is I typically hear from the vortex, not the fringe. The fringe is hard to hear from because they are not the ones who are coming to speak up. Maybe the thing we need to do is take the vortex ideas and help people “not play by our rules” and use these ideas that might be good to reach the fringe rather than the vortex. Can we also find people who are thinking or can be pushed to think outside the box?
MarkO: Are we asking kids outside our “norm” what we can try that might be good for them?
Nate S: Do we have a boss that is really behind this? In our context we have a boss that is telling us he wants to “pull back the reins on what we try, not kick us in the pants to get us going.”
MarkO: Medici Effect is a book we should all read that can help us with this thinking.