Finding Your Sam: Microtargeting in Ministry


“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”

Zig Ziglar, American author and speaker

That’s true in ministry, especially when a ministry is over programmed and under focused. In order to maximize our ministry efforts and increase a ministry’s focus, we need to ask: Who is our customer? Who are we trying to reach? One way to establish a clear target market or specific customer is to use microtargeting. Microtargeting, a marketing strategy, uses consumer data and demographics to pinpoint persons or small groups of people that share similar ideals, and impact their behaviors.

To microtarget your ministry’s programs and events, gather data from websites such as My Best Segments or by entering your church’s zip code when prompted. Select the information that is most applicable to your ministry including facts about schools, parents, family status, free lunch, income, technology use, etc. Use this information to develop a persona, a fictional character, to represent the child or family who you are trying to reach. As you develop you persona, describe his or her likes, dislikes, mindsets, skills, goals, and background. To make your persona believable, include some fun, imaginary features and give it a gender-neutral name such as Sam or Shannon. If possible, draw a life-size representation of Sam and keep Sam front and center in your ministry planning area. Using personas puts a face on the kids we are trying to reach.

As you develop new or evaluate existing programs, use your persona as a filter, asking these questions: How does this program resonate with Sam? Which of Sam’s needs are we meeting? How does this event connect with Sam’s existing behaviors? How will Sam feel as this event? How will we involve Sam’s parents? Design your program or ministry event (and marketing) using the answers to these questions. You’ll hit the bull’s-eye with your efforts.

5 Keys to Make Learning Stick

learning stick

As teachers and trainers, we want learners to be engaged, inspired and transformed by the learning experiences we provide. To ensure that each lesson you teach sticks, use these keys to create top-notch activities for learners of all ages.

  1. Design the experience to fulfill a specific purpose. The activity should teach one point. Research has proven that teaching one-point through multiple angles increases retention to 90%.
  2. Make sure the experience presents an open-ended task to accomplish or problem to solve. Keeping the task open-ended will allow for a multitude of answers and increase creativity. Close-ended problems with one right answer stifle creativity and critical thinking.
  3. Design the experience so it challenges learners but doesn’t overwhelm them. Daniel Pink, author of Drive, stresses the importance of mastery as one of the elements of motivation. As you plan, consider what learners will be able to do after they have completed the task or challenge. How will they feel?
  4. Make the experience age-appropriate. Experiences that are too advanced for learners will cause frustration while activities that are too simple will create boredom.
  5. Connect the students’ learning to real-world experience. As people learn, they want to see how what they are learning applies to their world. They ask, “Why should this matter to me?” Learning that matters is learning that sticks.

Using these keys will guarantee your lessons are fun, memorable, and applicable for the individuals you teach. They’ll make your teaching more rewarding, too.

Play: The Secret to Fresh Ideas


Coming up with new and innovative ideas to solve complex problems requires ideational thinking, the skill of producing original thoughts and images to solve complex challenges. Successful ideators (pros at ideational thinking) are skillful at dreaming up mounds of unique and unusual ideas, combining different ideas into a new concepts, building on existing solutions, and exploring possibilities that haven’t been identified. One of the core affective skills or emotional skills that masterful ideators possess is Playfulness. Playfulness is simply playing with ideas like one would play with Lego bricks– configuring ideas in various ways, connecting one idea to another, and seeing ideas with multiple perspectives. When we practice playfulness, we become more childlike, intentionally adopting the inquisitive, delighted, and wonder-filled attitudes of the children we serve. As adults, returning to the playful behaviors of our childhood can be difficult and awkward. Luckily we have pros in our midst. To learn how to play again, set aside time to play with your kids, grandkids or the kids in your ministries. Allow the pint-sized experts to guide you. As you are playing, fully immerse yourself in the experience setting aside judgment, rules and preconceived notions about how to play and what to do. After your play date, process your experience by journaling, making a list of what you did and how you felt, or drawing a picture that captures the moment. Consider how you might apply the playfulness you experienced the next time you face an ideational challenge. Instead of coming up with one practical answer, you might develop several outrageous ideas or pretend you have a special power that solves the problem in a nanosecond. You might break the traditional rules surrounding the problem and create new ones. Try changing your environment by creating a play space and adding a toy box filled with Lego, containers of kinetic sand, Buddha boards and other fun toys. Use the toys to set up “play stations” around the room. Set aside time during the day or brainstorming meetings to visit the stations. By having fun with a problem, you’ll generate more creative and workable solutions and enjoy doing it!

Just One Thing


Too often we copy what other ministries or churches do in our own efforts to be successful. We put a tree house in our children’s ministry area to attract kids because the big church down the street has one or we start a contemporary worship service for young adults to compete with the hip, growing church in town. We visit Willow Creek or Saddleback and try to make our churches just like them. Though well intended, most often these duplicitous efforts fail.

I believe that God has placed within each faith community a unique ability to offer Christ to a hurting world. Through a process of self-discovery, churches can identify how God is calling them to serve their community. Scripture reminds to shepherd the flock we’ve been given. Do we know the flock? Do we know how we’re supposed to shepherd them?

Discover what God is calling your congregation to do by trying the “Just One Thing” activity listed below. Before you begin, collect data about your church’s neighborhood by using Based on your church’s zip code, you’ll find information on income levels, educational levels, schools, etc.

“One Thing”

Gather a few people from your congregation to form a small team. Present the data on your church’s demographics to the group. Pray over it. Ask people to offer insights, ask questions, and add additional information they may have.  Take notes as people comment. Look at the information and imagine that you can do only one thing as a church for your community—just “one thing.”

  • Ask the following questions to help the imaginative process:
  • What would our one thing be, and how could we do it really, really well?
  • What would make us extraordinary at that one thing?
  • What would make it amazing and fun?
  • What would make it awesome?”

Based on your answers, formulate a ministry plan and share it with the rest of the congregation. Paint a clear picture of what you are trying to achieve. People will say yes to a compelling vision that has a distinct purpose.

As you cast the vision, offer people specific ways they can serve in the ministry and invite people to consider how their particular gifts and passions might enhance the ministry plan. Think creatively to incorporate people’s existing gifts. Try using sentence starters such as “What if we…” or “How might we…” to allow for multiple ideas. Giving people the chance to determine how their gifts will be used fosters autonomy and mastery–two of the leading factors that drive motivation.

Once you’ve established your team, put your plan into action. Do your church’s “one thing” and do it well. Periodically, evaluate the ministry a modified version of the questions you answered at the onset.

  • Are we still doing our one thing really well?
  • What do we need to stop doing? Continue doing? Start doing?
  • Is our one thing extraordinary? Do people experience the love of Christ through us?
  • Are we having fun?
  • Are we awed by the stories of God at work?

Be ready to make changes as the ministry unfolds, and share your stories, as you become the church that God has called you to be.

Step Away From the Problem


Staring at a problem rarely helps. Mental fatigue has set in and you’re stuck. No matter what you do, finding a solution seems like a dream instead of a reality. During these moments, your brain needs a break. Walk away and leave the problem alone. Know as “incubation” in the creative process, stepping away from solving a problem gives our brains the rest that is needed to spark creative thinking and problem solving.  During incubation, do not work consciously on the problem and allow your subconscious to work for you, making connections that your conscious (and taxed) mind could not.  If possible, move to another workspace or area and do something completely different that requires an alternative approach or skill set. For example, if you’re designing a flyer, work on your budget instead and vice versa. Changing tasks will enable your subconscious to do its best work. Be ready for new and novel solutions to your problem to appear at random times and places like the shower, the gym or in the car. Keep a pad of sticky notes handy to document your brilliant solutions.

When Meetings Get Stuck

As ministry leaders, we participate in lots of meetings to dream, develop and evaluate opportunities to serve children and families. In most cases, the meetings run smoothly—with a clear agenda, valuable discussion, and well-defined action steps to be taken. Unfortunately, in some meetings, we get stuck and momentum stops. Discussions don’t move forward and very few actions steps are identified. Participants feel deflated and wish the time they’ve spent in the meeting were dedicated to a more worthwhile endeavor.   When momentum halts, try these ideas to move your meeting forward:

  1. Get up and change your meeting space. A new meeting space offers a fresh perspective and stimulates new ways of thinking. If you can’t change your meeting space, change where people are sitting. Ask people to get up and switch places with another person or move tables to another area in the room.
  1. Reexamine the length of your meeting. Is it too short or too long? A meeting that runs too long gets mired in minutia, where people focus on the tiny details without focusing on the big picture or the initial reason for convening the meeting. Interest wanes and progress stops. Oppositely, a meeting that’s too short precludes proper ideation, rich discussion and formation of actionable items. In these brief gatherings, participants may feel a lack of accomplishment, lamenting that the real issue was not addressed or resolved. 
  1. Use the power of two or three. During the meeting break people into subgroups, pairs or trios to focus on the task at hand. Working in smaller groups engages everyone and provides an opportunity for each person to give input and share their thoughts and feelings about the issue being addressed. Additionally, group work fosters ideation. Be sure to bring the small groups back together to share their discoveries.
  1. Go for a walk. A breath of fresh air can invigorate a stalled meeting. Give your team members a question or topic to discuss with a partner and invite the pairs to take a 10-minute walk outside. As people walk and talk, the sights, smells and sounds of nature or an urban street will influence their thinking. Challenge people to make connections from their environment to the problem they’re trying to solve. For example, what might be all the ways a traffic light could be used to assess ministry programs? For added insight and visual imagery, have people use their smart phones to take a photo of something that jumpstarted their thinking. When people return, offer an opportunity from them to recap their discussions and share insights.

5 Ways to Engage Volunteers

Get Volunteers EngagedHappy, engaged volunteers are the cornerstone for a thriving ministry. When volunteers are engaged, they are more likely to serve longer and recruit others to the team.To increase volunteer engagement on your team, try these ideas:

  1. Foster relevance: Relate service opportunities to volunteers’ lives. As people are serving, point out the transferable skills that they are learning and practicing. For example, if someone leads the large group time, they’re most likely great public speakers. Encourage them to use their speaking skills at work.
  2. Understand their frame of mind: Get to know your volunteers and practice seeing the world from their perspectives. Are they focused on the big picture or in tune with the fine details? As you do, you’ll understand how they approach their ministry roles. By seeing your volunteers’ perspectives, you can better equip them as learners and leaders.
  3. Show concern for well-being: Know what’s happening in your volunteers’ lives. Be intentional about asking about their family, friends, and work. Being aware of these important details demonstrates your care for the whole person, not just their role in ministry.
  4. Give affirmation: Celebrate what your volunteers are doing using praise, positive feedback, and pointing out specific opportunities where they can do what they’re doing even better! Be generous and bless volunteers with gift cards to coffee shops or local eateries! People stay engaged because the feel connected and valued.
  5. Encourage creativity: Volunteers have great ideas! Let your ministry be a place where they can test them. Paint the picture of you’d like them to achieve and encourage them to use their creativity and imagination to make it a reality. Be present along the way to offer feedback and encouragement. By promoting creativity, you’re also encouraging risk-taking behaviors, one of the key behaviors of innovation.

Unleash the Power of “Yet”

Recently I witnessed a child toss aside a book and claim with great frustration, “I can’t read. I can’t read.” After his heart-breaking proclamation, I approached him, picked up the book, and said, “You can’t read—yet.” His eyes widened and his heart opened as we read the book, sounding out each word, syllable-by-syllable. As we read the last page of the book, the boy looked at me and said, “We did it!”  At that moment, I realized the power of “yet.”  “Yet,” a small word, is packed with power.  “Yet” gives someone hope, lets a person know that possibility exists, and provides an avenue for instruction to help someone do something she believes is unachievable.

In ministry, we encounter people with willing hearts, but have never served children or have never taught in a classroom.  We’re blessed with people who may have tried serving in other ministries but have failed.  We minister to kids who believe they can’t do something or aren’t good enough. As leaders, our role to help people achieve what they believe they cannot do; we can do that by unleashing the power of “yet.” When people say doubtingly “I don’t think I can do that” add “yet” to the end of their statement, and pinpoint the steps you’ll take to help them do it.   Yet also works in situations when new ideas and programs are presented.  When a naysayer challenges a new idea or program with “We can’t do that” or “That would never happen,” add “yet” to their oppositional statement and brainstorm ways to turn the negative into a positive.  Adding the power of “yet” into the ideational mix will generate more creative options and a better idea or program in the end. Finally, when kids claim they can’t, add a big “yet” and guide them to success, making note of their incremental achievements along the way.

3 Questions to Spark Creativity

I’ve always been a little quirky–my parents told me I was lot like my “artsy” grandmother, who made her own clothes, jewelry, and quite a scene at family gatherings. I loved her winsome spirit, and quickly realized that she was brilliantly creative in process and product. Living creatively was her way of life.

It’s not surprising that I have become a lot like her, taking risks, challenging assumptions, and causing creative chaos in life and ministry.  Some people are quick to say, “I was born that way” but truthfully, creativity is something I practice daily.

Every morning I wake up at the crack of dawn and wonder what surprises are in store for me. Who will be put in my path that I may inspire to act or think differently? What small or big disruptions might become opportunities for creative exploration? How can I see the world in a new way? As my day unfolds and I experience life through the lens of these questions, I’m wildly surprised by the serendipitous events that fuel my creativity and engage my noggin. To capture these insights, I carry sticky notes with me wherever I go. Occasionally, during meetings, people point out that I have one stuck somewhere on my clothes, computer or shoe. They laugh, and I celebrate their discovery as I explain the big idea on the tiny note. Conversation usually ensues, providing a platform to spark new ideas that become relevant to the topic at hand. We press on with newfound inspiration to solve the challenge we’ve gathered to address. Before the meeting is over, someone thanks me for my creative input and wishes they were creative, too. I respond, lovingly, saying it just takes a spark, an idea-spark, to fuel the fire of innovative thinking.

To boost your creativity, ponder three questions: Who will be put in my path that I may inspire to act or think differently? What small or big disruptions might become opportunities for creative exploration? How can I see the world in a new way? (Try standing on your head.) Then write them on a sticky note, and carry it with you wherever you go. Throughout your day, read the note aloud and search for answers. Take a picture of what you discover or jot down your ideas on another sticky note.

Designate an area of your home or office an incubation space, where creative ideas simmer and sizzle. Each day, post your answers to the 3 questions in this space, and let them cook. Revisit the ideas often and make connections among them. Move and reorder the sticky notes. What new ideas did you develop? What might be all the ways you are looking at the world differently?

Keeping asking yourself these questions and fill your incubation space with lots of ideas and answers. When friends visit, ask them what connections they see. You’ll be amazed at what they see through your ideas sparks.

Be inspired.