The Ministry Leadership Advantage of the Meaningful Debrief

Ask the right questions, get good answers!

The Toyota Car Company has been faced with the worst possible crisis that a major corporation can experience—a lack of credibility. You can’t recall thousands of cars without suggesting to your clients that you don’t know what you’re doing. Toyota’s problem isn’t the result of not doing good market research. Rather, their issues are mostly about engineering goofs. For a car manufacturer, that’s embarrassing!

In the American church—most often—it’s the exact opposite, our “Product” is flawless (and I mean flawless), but our market research is usually lousy. That, too, is embarrassing! After all, George Barna can’t be expected to do it all! :-) There are a couple of things that would help this situation and they both involve a really honest discussion.

I’ve always been a strong advocate of “the meaningful debrief.” This is where a church staff and some leaders sit around and go back over main events in the life of the community of believers, such as a major celebration of an anniversary or a strategic gathering to cast new vision.

Everybody gets to give praise for the things they thought went particularly well, while envisioning how something might have been added to give the event even more meaning. My personal opinion has always been, it should also be done after every worship service.

Beyond the debrief, another helpful device for improving and making your worship services more meaningful is to ask questions of the people who sit through them. This must seem obvious, but, unless we know our people at a deeper level and understand them, we can’t hope to speak to them in our worship experiences. So, here are some sample questions—each “ask” should start with “Be honest,…”

•Were you looking forward to coming to the service?
• Did you do anything to prepare for being in worship today?
• Do you think you could have spent your time better if you had stayed at home?
• Given the complexity of your life, what might you do instead of church?
• If we were offering premiums (and we’re probably not going to), what would be the “tipping point teaser” for getting you here every week?
• Generally speaking, do you feel welcomed when you come to our services or do you think we’re pretending to be glad to see you?
• Do you get anything out of worship that you can remember past Tuesday when you come here?
• Do you wish somebody had asked you these questions years ago when you first started coming to church?
• What are folks saying about your attendance at church, and does it bother you when they’re critical?
• What’s the one thing you wish that we (the church) would finally “get” about you?

These are not magical questions. You could probably write better ones, but these kinds of questions might give us a better dialogue with our folks so that we have a cleaner shot at engaging their hearts and minds—simply because we know how they think. They have lives and values, and those lives and values sometimes have almost nothing in common with our institutional reasoning.

Often our mistakes in attracting people (and keeping them) come from not really understanding how they think, act, and live. You can’t engage the attention of someone you haven’t “decrypted.”

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