Minimum Viable Spiritual Growth Plan

Playing catchLeadership Network recently surveyed over 1,600 ministry leaders of large (1000+) churches. The most frequently cited issue facing churches today is “discipleship.” In response to where they felt their church was most innovative, the bottom two categories were “evangelistic emphasis” and “personal worship and devotional life.” What they felt weakest in was “evangelistic effectiveness and spiritual growth.” Devotional life, evangelism and spiritual growth. How is it possible that the very things churches are created for and designed to do, are the areas of the most perceived weakness? How could we change that?

Power users

Most Christian content is created by “power users” for other power users. If you are reading this you are probably a power user. Pastors and writers are power users. They must study and think deeply to have something worthy to share from the pen or pulpit. And this discipline leads to insight and often a feeling of connection to God. So this becomes the recommended prescription and path for the congregants and readers. But what if people did not need huge amounts of content to be a growing, effective Christ-followers? What if the church’s job is not to train big league pitchers but simply to help parents play catch with their kids?

Understanding B.J. Fogg
Screen-Shot-2014-03-01-at-9.43.35-AM-e1393692462184One of the recent insights on human behavior comes from B.J. Fogg out of Stanford. Fogg suggests that all behavior is a product of MOTIVATION plus ABILITY plus a TRIGGER—all at the same time. This simple formula is profound in its applications. Take a look at Fogg’s diagram. Here are some observations

  • The two vectors are MOTIVATION and ABILITY
  • A trigger is an invitation to act (external or internal) to which I can respond by saying “yes” or “no”
  • I must be and stay highly motivated to do really hard things like read the Bible through in a year (20 minutes every day). The problem is our motivation fluctuates from day to day
  • Although I need a minimum threshold of MOTIVATION, I don’t need to be that motivated to accomplish something that is easy to do. So it seems to do something with consistency, it must be so simple that even if I’m not that motivated there is still something I can do
  • (There is a threshold to MOTIVATION and ABILITY below which TRIGGERS are ineffective.)

Fogg says the key to behavior change comes through “tiny habits”—behaviors that are so simple to do that they are most likely to be done. In his TEDx talk, “Forget big change, start with a tiny habit,” Fogg tells us “simplicity changes behavior more than motivation” and “simplicity is easier than motivation.” So rather than trying to motivate people to difficult things (like “read through the Bible this year” or “pray daily for five people you want to come to Christ,” etc.) help them create a plan consisting of “baby steps.” As people gain efficacy through consistently completing small actions, they create the desire and ability to take on more difficult actions.

Celtic knot

Painting by Laura Prill

Painting by Laura Prill

For the past few years, when I’ve been meeting with church leaders I’ve talked about a rhythm of growth found in the Celtic knot. It’s a rhythm of helping people believe (initially and continually), belong (life-connection with other believers) and bless[i] those who do not yet know Christ (Genesis 12:3, Psalm 67:7 kind of stuff). I believe that growing people of faith are intentionally engaged in all three practices at some level and some consistency. In the fall I was teaching a seminary class and asked the question, “How frequently do you think a believer needs to go through the Believe, Belong, Bless cycle. Melanie, a woman in early 50s answered, “Well, every day!” Her answer stunned me but immediately I recognized the wisdom of her answer. Of course! Why not every day?

A lesson from tech regarding a minimalist approach

In order to have a viable business, three things must be true:

  1. People want this product or service
  2. People are willing to pay for it
  3. People want to buy it from you

If any one of these is not true you don’t have a business. We also learn that each of these “leap-of-faith” connections can be tested by creating a “minimum viable product”[i] or MVP. So what if we started, not with a maximum growth plan (with the accompanying bells and whistles) that a few might do, but rather with a minimum growth plan that anyone could do, built around the simple concepts of believe, belong and bless? We, in the lean startup[ii] posture, could test this hypothesis: people will grow spiritually and have a positive spiritual effect on others if they do these “baby steps” consistently.[iii]

Believe—just connect with God every day. A few years ago I was in New York City and I found myself sitting next to a Jewish man. I asked him about his faith—the yamaka, the tassels and when it came to prayer he said, “Every day I pray the same prayer” and then he repeated that prayer in Hebrew and then gave me the translation, “Lord, you have made me for a purpose. Help me walk in that purpose today (in everything I say, everywhere I go, in everything I do, and with everyone I converse) Amen.” It hit me why such a small group of people has had such an inordinate amount of influence on the world. Every day they wake up with a sense of calling and purpose. Maybe prayer doesn’t have to be long to be effective. The Lord’s prayer can be prayed thoughtfully in around 30 seconds. Anne Lamott says that all prayer is found in three words—“Help,” “Thanks,” and “Wow.”[iv] My friend Reggie McNeal says all prayer an be reduced a mere two words—“Yes, Lord.” What if every day we prayed a minimum viable prayer[v] embracing and yielding all of our lives to Jesus?

Belong—connecting with and purposefully encouraging another believer every day. Hebrews 3:13 nudges us towards connection. “…encourage one another, daily, lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” My friend and small groups guru, Mark Howell, says “an unconnected believer is just one life incident away from leaving the church.” Without daily encouragement people do fall away. What if we did not let a day pass where we did not speak words of life into a fellow believer? What if we would not give sleep to our eyes until we had texted or called another Christian just to express a word of hope and encouragement?

Bless—Everyone you meet has an inherent need to be “blessed”—to be told that what they do matters…that they matter. Plato reminds us that “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle..be kind.” To bless means to “ask God to care for and protect” someone. Blessing someone is speaking words of life and hope into them. It is catching people doing something right and calling attention to it. It is stopping to breathe a few words of encouragement into a young mom patiently talking to her two year old in the grocery store. It is pausing to tell a smiling parking attendant that he made your day. It is bringing coffee and a scone to a co-worker who is struggling. Jesus talked about the importance of little acts of kindness: “Whoever gives a cup of cold water…” (Matthew 10:42). Adam Grant says, “No matter how busy you are you can find some small way of making someone’s life better.” Mother Teresa said it best: “Small deeds done with great love change the world.”

Maximum impact through minimum qualifications

What difference would it make in your city if every person in your church had the practice of connecting with God every day, encouraging a fellow-believer every day and blessing a person outside the faith every day. Say you had a thousand people in your church…that is 365,000 connections to God every year. Each year there are 365,000 words / acts of encouragement bestowed on fellow-believers around the city…and we are recipients as well as givers of these powerful words and acts. Each year your church has 365,000 thoughtful, positive, loving interactions with non-believers. I suspect that what may currently be the biggest areas of weakness in your church (evangelism, spiritual growth and devotional life) may become your strongest areas.If what you are currently doing is working, then by all means stick with it. But if you feel, like most churches, that you are stuck, try experimenting with believing, belonging, and blessing and there is a good chance your weakest areas may become your strongest areas.

So here is your do-able challenge: What if you, in the Spirit of of the lean startup and creating “baby steps” (the Heath brothers would call this “shaping the path“), you challenged every person in your church (or small group) to do these three practices every day for the next 30 days…and record what they did and what happened as a result. At the end of the month, ask people to tell their stories.

Leadership Network is always interested in broadcasting “what is working” to the larger body of Christ. So if you decide this is something you want to experiment with, please let us know how things went and we’ll help spread the word.





[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimum_viable_product

[ii] leadnet.org/the-lean-startup-for-church-planting/

[iii] If it could be shown that there was a correlation between time logged in the Bible led to greater compassion, grace, giving, forgiving, and redemptive actions then perhaps a more vigorous spiritual growth path would be in order.[iii] More knowledge guarantees but only two things—it “makes us feel important” and “makes us arrogant” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Some of the most judgmental, divisive and unforgiving people I know have a great knowledge of the Bible (and are never wrong). Ken Blanchard made the case for one-minute goals, one-minute praise, one-minute reprimand (and one-minute apology) in his best selling (13m+ copies sold) book The One Minute Manager. A practice doesn’t have to be long to be effective

[iv] http://www.amazon.com/Help-Thanks-Wow-Essential-Prayers/dp/1594631298

[v] “Lord, today I give all of myself to all of you. Help me see everyone I meet through your eyes. Let me be your hands, feet and voice today. May I be life-giving to all I meet. May I fulfill the purpose you have for me. Amen”


[i] I first heard this construct from Geoffrey Hsu, who at the time was serving with Cru in Southern California. Geoff’s insight was that today’s students are more attracted to Believe, Belong, and Bless than Cru’s traditional Win, Build, Send. Thanks Geoff.

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