Familiarity blindness is a malady that infects us all. It happens when we become so familiar with something that we no longer consciously see it. In fact, the brain does this all the time so it doesn’t have to work as hard. If you drive to church or work the same route each time, you no longer pay attention to familiar buildings, signs, and other landmarks along the way. Although our eyes still see them, they’ve become so familiar that the brain doesn’t pay conscious attention to them. However, when something is out of place on your drive, i.e., a detour, you immediately pay attention.
The same process happens in ministry. We get accustomed to doing things a certain way, become so familiar with our surroundings, or slip into a ministry rut that we become oblivious to their staleness or their need for change. It happens in marriage as well. We can become so familiar with our spouses that we can take then for granted and not treat them as kindly as we once did.
Jesus described this phenomenon in his response to people who knew Mary and Joseph and couldn’t believe that He was a carpenter’s son. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” (Luke 4.24, NIV) Those from His hometown had become so familiar with Him that they missed seeing Him as the Messiah.
So, since this problem easily carries into our ministries, how can we cure it? Consider these ideas.
- Invite someone with fresh eyes to visit your church service. Perhaps a fellow pastor, a consultant, or a neighbor. Afterwards ask them to give you honest feedback about their experience, both good and bad.
- Evaluate the order in which you present the various parts of your worship service. Do you do the same thing in the same order each week? Could someone who has gone to your church for a while tell you the order without even thinking? If so, you may want to consider changing up the order. Surprise and novelty helps people pay better attention.
- Go and visit another church. What do you experience that feels disconcerting, unclear, or unnecessary? Do you see similar barriers in your own church? Go back to your church with the same evaluative eyes and make necessary changes.
- Spend time with new people in your church. Ask them what they liked. Ask them what they would change. Ask them to be honest. Pay attention to what you learn. Build on the good. Modify the not-so-good.
- Evaluate your annual church calendar. Does your church or its ministries do the exact same things year after year? Certainly repeating events that work is good. But, do you do some events just because you’ve always done them? Do they have the same spiritual impact they once did? Do you need to drop or modify them?
- Does your leadership culture invite honest feedback and evaluation about your ministry? Do you regularly evaluate ministry initiatives and events? Or, is the planning process over when the event is over? Learning cultures will ruthlessly evaluate what they do so they can do better next time.
- Pray. Though last in this list it is not least. Ask the Lord to show you what you’ve become blind to.
What would you add to this list to help cure familiarity blindness in a church?
“I just learned 7 helpful ways to cure familiarity blindness in my church.” (to tweet this quote click here)
Ministry initiatives in the church often fail. A simple planning tool called the pre-mortem, however, can minimize the chances they do so. In my last post I suggested 7 good reasons to conduct the pre-mortem, a tool credited to Dr. Gary Klein.
A pre-mortem is an exercise that assumes your plan spectacularly fails and considers beforehand what might go wrong. It helps teams plan ahead to avoid potential pitfalls.
To get started, you’ll want to schedule a pre-mortem session with your team and include these steps when you convene them.
- Brief your team about the proposed plan.
- Describe the imaginary failure in colorful terms. Imagine it as a spectacular fiasco.
- Ask your team to write down everything they believe could have possibly gone wrong.
After these steps, consider these questions.
- What did you miss that contributed to the failure?
- What went wrong as you implemented your imaginary plan?
- Who messed up and why?
- Had you known these pitfalls, what would you have done differently?
- After completing your pre-mortem session, what do you need to change about your proposed plan to avoid potential failure?
- Who needs to know these changes?
Here’s a helpful guide written by Dr. Klein that describes in more detail how to do a pre-mortem.
Have you ever conducted a pre-mortem? If so, what additional questions would you include?
“I just learned how to conduct a ministry plan pre-mortem to help avoid failure.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)
Jesus recognized the role good planning plays in life and ministry.
He said,Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? (Luke 14.28)
Unfortunately, lack of planning often torpedoes otherwise good ministry ideas.
Scientist Gary Klein, author of The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, offers a great idea he calls a pre-mortem.
Dr. Klein says that a pre-mortem can increase the chances that our plan will succeed. In contrast to a post-mortem that we often perform after a plan fails, a pre-mortem is an exercise that teams do before they implement a plan.
By imagining that an event is over and that it failed, a pre-mortem can often surface potential problems that you can address and prepare for before you invest time and resources in an event or a plan.
In my next blog I’ll give crucial questions to ask to make a pre-mortem successful.
But first, I’ve listed several benefits of a pre-mortem.
- A pre-mortem helps you fail on paper rather than in practice. A pre-mortem considers what might go wrong so you can plan to avoid those mistakes
- You can surface potential pitfalls in a safe environment. Before others get overinvested in the plan, considering the pitfalls beforehand makes it less threatening for a team member to voice a concern.
- A pre-mortem helps you value your team members by soliciting their ideas and thoughts. We all like others to feel that our voice matters. A pre-mortem reinforces that experience.
- You can help team members become more sensitive to potential problems as you roll out the plan. By discussing potential issues beforehand, your team is more likey to see potential issues when you do roll it out.
- You can increase the chances that you will avoid a painful post-mortem autopsy prompted by a failure. We’d all rather avoid autopsies.
- You can surface potential problems you might have otherwise missed. Pretended your plan has failed makes you think outside the box.
- ___________ (what would add as a seventh benefit?)
“I just learned 5 good reasons to conduct a ministry plan pre-mortem to avoid failure.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)
Daniel and his three friends are some of my favorite Biblical characters. They modeled what it means to live a life of integrity, which is taking a beating today.
Several years ago James Patterson and Peter Kim authored the book, The Day America told the Truth. They conducted a survey by asking Americans what they would be willing to do for 10 million dollars. Here’s what they learned.
- Would abandon their entire family (25%)
- Would abandon their church (25%)
- Would become prostitutes for a week or more (23%)
- Would give up their American citizenship (16%)
- Would leave their spouses (16%)
- Would withhold testimony and let a murderer go free (10%)
- Would kill a stranger (7%)
- Would put their children up for adoption (3%)
When I read this my heart sunk. I can only imagine that since that survey over 20 years ago, the same survey would yield even more discouraging results.
However, Daniel and his friends show us these 5 ways we can deepen our integrity in a world that seems to discourage it.
- Be willing to make tough choices. On several occasions Daniel made tough choices like refusing to eat the royal food and refusing to worship the image of the king. Each carried a potentially deadly penalty.
- Treat your adversaries with respect. When King Nebuchadnezzar issued the edict for all the wise men to be killed because no one could interpret his dream, Daniel appealed with great tact and wisdom. His actions averted certain death for he and many others.
- Build your moral compass around Jesus. The story of Daniel consistently reinforces how Daniel kept his deep commitment to God even though he lived in a pagan world and was force-fed that culture’s beliefs.
- Stay consistent in the small things. At one point the king demanded that the king and no other god be worshipped for 30 days. Anyone refusing to do so would be killed. Daniel’s practice was to pray three times daily to the one and true God. He could have easily cut corners for 30 days. Yet he stayed true even in what could be perceived as an inconsequential issue.
- Realize that people will either become bitter or better when you live with integrity. Key government officials all ended up supporting and respecting Daniel when they saw how he responded to them with integrity. Yet at the same time others were jealous and were offended at his integrity.
What choices have helped you deepen your integrity?
“I just learned 5 ways to deepen my integrity.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)
I grew up in the church and by my calculation I’ve heard 10,931 church announcements, or thereabouts. I only remember one of them. What did I only remember that one?
Before I give you the answer, I must confess that for me announcements are the most boring part of a service, yet mostly necessary. I’ve felt more stress from having to give them than when I’ve had to speak. I simply hate giving announcements. I guess I don’t like them because I see most people’s eyes glaze over during announcement time.
So why did I just remember the one I referred to?
It happened when I served in California over ten years ago. I took a staycation and visited a few local churches since I didn’t have to attend my church. One church I visited met in a simple warehouse. About ten minutes into the service a man walked on stage with a microphone in one hand and a hotdog in another. He made a couple of announcements between bites. Then another guy walked up on stage with a mike and a hotdog. They began a dialogue about the church hot-dog cookout that followed. I’ll never forget that creative announcement. Even as I write this post I’m getting hungry for a hotdog.
Although these two guys probably didn’t have the brain in mind when they made that announcement, they exemplified a basic rule of attention. The brain pays attention when expectations get violated. I expected the normal talking head to make announcements. But my brain was made more attentive because what I expected didn’t happen.
That simple brain concept not only applies to announcements, but to our sermons as well.
So, if you believe announcements are important and you want people to remember them, violate your congregation’s expectations. Here are a few simple ideas to incorporate into your announcements.
- Novelty (make them from a different location in your auditorium, use video, etc.)
- Surprise (mix up when during the service you make them, have separate people in the congregation stand up and make them, etc.)
- Humor (the key to humor is surprise)
- Object lessons/show and tell (i.e., the hotdog)
What ideas have helped your announcements become more sticky?
“I just learned some creative ways to make announcements more sticky.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)