Why are Inspectable Infrastructures Important? – Coaching Session


The single best time I ever had in ministry, ‘til recently, was in this youth ministry that I led for 3 years before I started Willow, because we had figured out how to do large group stuff well, midsize groups well and small groups well.
So we had a thousand high school students, and man it was… we had terrific programming, great teaching, it was all good.

We had all these students broken down into what we just called teams that were scale wise from 50 to 80. Whenever a team would grow to more than 80, then we would divide it, if you will. We would birth another team out of it.
These teams would grow right back up to 80, as many teams as we could provide good leaders for, would grow their midsize group back up to 80. Then we’d divide it and grow it back up.

So we started with four teams. When I left there after three years, we had 20 of these teams, midsize groups. And then part of the idea was all these team leaders would connect, would try to connect, all these students with each other and get them into small groups with good small group leaders.
Then I started the church and I could not for the life of me figure out what that midsize group deal was.

So, large group no problem, Willow has always handled that adequately. Small groups… we’ve always been able to emphasise that. This midsize thing has been driving us crazy!
And so we’ve taken a lot of different approaches over the years and spent millions of dollars trying to figure out an infrastructure that would address that issue. So all we did, I mean we just changed our thinking a little bit. Every single auditorium that you can hold church in has seating sections. And some of you who have the luxury of like folding chairs or something, you can actually determine… these are aisles of course… And you can determine how large you want your sections to be. So because we have a large auditorium, we actually have 27 sections…main floor, mezzanine, balcony…
So we have been raising up these people called section pastors. They surround themselves with a core group of 20 to 30. Their job is to fill their section, connect everybody in their section to mobilize everybody to find their spiritual gift and use it. And then, if they can, to get those people all in small groups.

Now the reason I like this so much is when you have an invisible infrastructure, you can’t inspect it. So at a time, we had 26 fulltime area pastors who were building small groups out in the community. Wrap your head around 26 fulltime area pastors.

So I’d have a meeting with them and I’d say “how’s it going gang?”.
They’d say, “Unbelievable! We are starting so many small groups. This is just rocking and rolling.”
And I’d say, “Well that’s interesting because our attendance has been flat for a year and a half. Where are all of these people?” “Well they’re out in the community. They meet in homes. And I could show you their names and all that”
And I go, “Well that’s great.” And then I’d meet with them another three months later. And they’d go “Oh we added another 80 groups!” And I’m like “wow!”, attendance is flat. All this great stuff is going on!

And I finally, after we had done about three iterations of this, and the last time was with that neighbourhood thing… I just got so sick of pouring tons of dollars into infrastructure that is for the most part uninspectable.
Now you come to church… and at our 11:15 service we have this pretty much fully staffed. I can inspect this from my seat in the bullpen.

If a guy named Fred who’s got this section over here, if I see him in the hallway, and go, “Hey Fred. How’s your section going?” And he goes, “Awesome.” And then I look over there as the service starts and he is sitting alone in a section. I go, “Not so awesome, Fred. There’s nobody in your section, there’s no life, there’s no people. You know, come on, I can see from here, you don’t have to blow smoke, It’s going terrible!”

And then you go right across the way here, this section is spilling over into the aisles. And people are greeting each other, saving seats, hugging each other. These people, these section pastors have section parties after the services in rooms around the church. Some of these section pastors, if they have 125 people in their section, they’ll get 100 people who will stay over for their section party. I mean it’s insane, the allegiance, the connection, the sense of community that’s beginning to build in these sections.

So I am about as high on this experiment as I’ve been on any infrastructure plan than we’ve ever used at Willow.

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