The Evolution of the Thingy

In 2009 Wendy and I stepped out of traditional church leadership, recruited a small group of like minded people, and began experimenting with what it meant to “be the church.” The group went through several iterations. We closed it in 2013. It was called “The Thingy.”

Blog posts about the group were the first things I ever published online. I wrote them in hopes that others might learn from our successes and failures. The blog I wrote them on is long dead, so I’m going to post them here hopes that someone might be inspired by them and learn from the adventure we had.

Last night I posted the posts from the first six months of the group. (Click here to read it.)

Tonight I’m posting my journal entries from the second and third year. There are a few meeting recaps, and then the third year (mid-way point in the life of the group) evaluation. As I did with the other post, I’m going to put pictures of our family from around that time so you can get a feel for how much time has pasted.

Please excuse the quality of the writing. As I said, these are unedited (mostly). I’ve learned a lot about writing since 2009. 

A Meeting Recap – September 15, 2009

December 2009It was another great night last night with the Thingy crew.  Because of vacations, Labor day, and life it had been four weeks since we had a real gathering.  Each missed week for me had been painful.  Going into the meeting I was desperately longing to be with my team.

We met at Grind On Cafe.  For most of our time we were the only people there besides Matt, the guy working behind the counter.  It was nice being in the coffee house alone.  No one was distracted by activities in the room.  No one seemed nervous to share because a stranger might over hear.  It was just what we needed.

We started off like we always do, by reading through the Core Principles.

For those of you new to this blog, here is a little back ground.  Our church plant team formed in January of 2009 with the aspiration of being a community God could use to transform and heal our city.  We knew He was calling us to be a different kind of church.  Like so many say, “If we want to reach those no one is reaching we need to do things no one is doing.”  Our goal was (and is) to reach those that want nothing to do with institutional forms of religion (a growing population here in Baltimore).  We also knew our efforts needed to center on imitating Christ.

So we started with a white board and the Gospel.  Good place to start right?  We turned to the life of Christ and asked, “If we were living like Him what would people say about us?  How what would define our lives?”   Off the bat it was clear that we needed to be people defined by our love of God and our love of others (practicing righteousness and justice in OT lingo); but “love God and love people” maybe the most over used phrase in Christianity today.  What in the world does it mean?  As we hammered through stories in the Gospels we semi-accidentally stumbled upon six characteristics of Christ we thought should define us.  Our community is centered on living these out in the world.

So, every time we get together we read the following…

“We will share Jesus with others by loving God and loving people through lives defined by…

  • Humility – understanding our need for God, we will be defined by our transparent, sincere brokenness.
  • Forgiveness – with an attitude of brokenness, considering others to be better than ourselves, we will seek to offer forgiveness, restoring others to right relationship with God and one another.
  • Service – longing to see people restored, we will love them with reckless and messy abandon.
  • Worship – as we encounter God through loving others, we will proclaim Jesus as Lord with uninhibited authenticity.
  • Wonder – in reverent stillness we will appreciate God’s glory without fear.
  • Surrender – knowing that Jesus is God and we are not, we will daily humble ourselves, deny our selfish ambition, and seek the Spirit’s guidance.”

…and then we ask each other where we have succeed and where we have failed.

Okay, enough back ground.  Back to last night.

So we read through the CP’s.  It was great hearing them again.  Group members had wonderful stories of trying to love others by imitating Jesus.   Then we looked at Zechariah 7 together.  Here is a portion.

Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?'”

And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.'”

Now, when I first read this my head got real big.  “Oh yeah bady!” I thought to myself.  “Worn out rituals and rules suck!  What we are doing rocks!  We walked away from all those lame selfish practices.  We are the bomb! (and by extension in my head) I am the bomb!”

Then the Holy Spirit smacked me in the face.  I heard the whisper in my ear, “So…all the changes you’ve made to the rituals and rules…these core principles you are so proud of…they’re leading you to administer true justice, show mercy and compassion, and all that jazz right?  I mean…living with this community has deepened your relationship with Me right?  Cause if you are just replacing old rules with new ones…is it working?”

That gave me pause.

I posed the question to the crew last night.  It was an interesting conversation.  In the end, we have been changed; but many of us have also figured out how to cheat the system, not intensely focusing on imitating Christ during the week as we should, but still participate in the conversation by reinterpreting our week through the lens of the CPs.  This means the structure we have developed is not working as efficiently in our lives as it should be.  So in the next few weeks we will be going back the white board and reevaluate what we are doing.  I’m really excited about it.  I think great things are going to come from the time.

Over all I love this group.  If you don’t have a community of faith, a team of people you are encountering God with on a routine basis that you love and long to be with, find one; because you are missing out.

Oh….we are also working on a name because we are tired of people ignoring us when we tell them the name of our community is “The Thingy.”  I told this to a reporter yesterday and she said, “I’ll call you Hamilton Community Church.”  At first I protested, but it was fruitless.  There was no way I was going to get her to call us “The Thingy.”

 

A Meeting Recap – May 17, 2010

May 2010Again, loving others in the community by imitating the love of Jesus is getting in the way of our gathering.  The Thingy (the missional community Wendy and I are a part of) is supposed to meet tonight and do our four-month personal evaluation.  We have these principles based on stories about Jesus in the Gospels that we try to live out; and tonight is the night when we sit down and discuss how we are doing.

But one of the clan will be missing because she is “helping someone in need.”

Who does she think she is?  How could she possibly go and love someone like Jesus without checking into our very important gathering first!?!?  What in the world.  The nerve.

Any who…we shall be moving forward without her.  Tonight we will read through the 6 Core Principles we settled on a year ago and ask how we are doing with each one.  Finally, we will each settle on one we need to focus more in-depth on for the next four months.

Just wanted to drop a quick note to give you a glimpse into our world.

 

An Update – September 12, 2010

September 2010Several people have recently asked me how the Thingy is doing.  It is a tough question to answer.  I mean…I love what we are doing.  I thrive on it.  I look forward to every gathering with great expectation.  It is the high point of my week.

For those that don’t know,  in January of 2009 Wendy and I joined with a small group of friends to rethink how we do church together.  Wanting to start with a clean slate, we spent January through May of 2009 simply digging into Jesus stories.  Then in May we began to encourage and equip one another to love God and love people like Jesus does.

Does or did?  Like Jesus did(?)…No…Like Jesus does(?!?).

That is always seriously confusing for me.  I’m speaking of Jesus’ example given via Scripture of when He was here in physical form on earth walking around…so it should be past tense – “did.”  But Jesus is still alive, still loving, still awesome, and still teaching me stuff via the Holy Spirit…so present tense – “does.”

I hates grammar stuff.

Anywho…back to the Thingy.

Like I said, I love what we do; but is it a success?  Cory (another dude in the Thingy) and I argue about this routinely.  How do you measure the success of a group like ours.

People attending on a given week?

That isn’t really what we are after.  If that were our goal we would start trying to rob dying churches.  Go for the low hanging fruit you know.

People saved?

Well that’s not really up to us.  That is a conversation between the individual and the Holy Spirit.  Sure, on occasion we get the privilege of participating in it; but it would be like McDonalds measuring its success by how badly Burger King is doing.  There are a whole range of factors McDonalds has nothing to do with.

People Baptized?

See above…

Times during the week you love like Jesus?

Talk about an insane thing to track.  You would spend your whole day debating whether that was a success of a failure.  Trust me.  I’ve tried this one.   It’s rough.

I could go on and on.  This is why Cory claims measuring success is ridiculous venture for us.  I think honestly, if we were to take it seriously, we would need to combine multiple factors.   All that to say, I have no numbers for you.

Outside of my personal opinion that it is going great I can point to some of our goals when we started.  When we first began we spent a lot of time talking about what we valued and what we hoped to see happen.  Here are a few things I think we have done really well:

We didn’t want to define ourselves by what we do.  Rather by we wanted to be defined by a shared lifestyle.  I think we have achieved that.  The structure of our group feels like it is constantly changing.  People ask what we do when we gather and when I tell them they can’t help but reply, “So why is this so special to you?”  What really what defines us is our passion for imitating Christ in the community.  We are obsessed with loving like Jesus.  We break it down into humility, forgiveness, service, worship, wonder, and surrender.  Our shared passion for loving like Jesus is what holds us together.  It is what makes us a team.

We set out to try to rediscover “evangelism.”  We were tired of seeing people as targets and measuring our success by whether or not someone prayed a prayer and got baptized (said the magic words and got dipped in the magic water).  Were tired of programmed based evangelism and longed to see people saved through relationships via personal conversations.  I feel like we are discovering what a life constant available to the Spirit and the intentional in the imitation of Jesus looks like.  I feel that we are each living differently than when we began.  Each of us are more evangelistic…but in a different way.

We wanted to try taking the idea of every member being a priest specially gifted and empowered for the work of ministry by the Holy Spirit seriously.   We wanted our structures (the things we do together) to empower individuals to love like Jesus in the community.  I believe we have succeeded in this.  We don’t do group projects.  We don’t really work together in the community (unless one of us needs man power with something they are doing).  We don’t plan big outreaches.  Instead we each have our group (or tribe) in the community that we focus on imitating Jesus in.  We each have our place in the community that we are intentional in (not to say we aren’t intentional in the rest of our lives; that’s the goal…but we have an area of focus).  This focus has caused us to have a minimalist attitude toward group activity.  We come together for encouragement and equipment and then we get back out into the world and go back to work at imitating Jesus.  It’s also changed our understanding of leadership.  Leadership for us is completely decentralized.  When one of us needs to step up and lead, it is done a thing done purely in service to the rest of the group.

Any way.  There is a quick glance at how things are going with the Thingy (in my opinion…ask a different team member you will probably get a different answer).  It is fantastic.  I am so thankful for my crew and how God is using us.  It’s been an amazing ride and I know God only has more crazy wild stuff ahead.

 

The First Meeting I Missed – May 10, 2011

April 2011Wendy and I and five other friends started the Thingy two years ago.  Wanting to rethink what it meant to be the church in our area, we started reading scripture together, praying, dreaming, and the Thingy was born.

(Over the last two years I’ve struggled to define who/what the Thingy is.  Finally, I can do it simply.)  The Thingy is a church of Jesus obsessed missionaries who work to imitate Jesus in our communities  and encourage and equip one another.

Last night was an unintentionally big night for the Thingy.

Being a member of the Thingy is not about showing up to a weekly meeting.  It is about struggling to imitate Jesus daily.  The gatherings support our mission, so if a member misses it is no big deal.   There is no pressure to attend the weekly gathering.

Last night none of the founding 7 could be there.  Wendy was working.  I had to keep the kids home because they had a rough week and needed sleep.  The other founders had work stuff or were out of town.

But last night the Thingy still happened.  The other members of the Thingy continued on without us and didn’t miss a beat.  In fact, it is the first time everyone present had read the passage for study before coming.

This is a dream come true for me.  I love it.

Thank you Thingy members.  You will never understand, because I can’t possibly begin to explain, the ways in which you have changed my life, empowered my relationship with God, and helped me to understand what it means to be the church.  You are amazing.  I love you all.  My walk with Jesus is what it is because of who you are in my life.

I don’t remember life without you.  I look forward to our future together.

You rock!

End of the Third Year Update – February 15, 2012

Feb 2012The Thingy is evolving.  I’m excited and nervous about where we are headed, and want to share with you everything that is going on.  At the same time I realize I haven’t written about the Thingy in a while (since August of 2011 as far as I can tell), so I feel I need to give you a little of our back story.

Three years ago Wendy and I joined with five other people in hopes of redefining what it means to live as the church in Baltimore.  While we each came from different backgrounds, the team was united in our frustration with contemporary church models and strategies.  We were done with the status-quo of “church” and realized there was nothing out there for except innovation and experimentation.   Not knowing how else to start, we began meeting weekly for prayer and discussion.

The only thing we were sure of was that  we wanted to be defined as people who imitate Jesus.   So each week a member brought his/her favorite story from the Gospels and as a group we asked the question, “Because of this story, how should we live?”   I facilitated the discussions so there was most definitely dry-erase boards and coffee always present.   Each week we developed a new principle we wanted to define our character.  The weekly discussions lasted four months.  We landed on six Core Principles we thought would define our lives as we struggled to imitate Jesus: humility, forgiveness, service, worship, wonder, and surrender.   Once those were set we had to make some decisions about our future structure.

There were some things we were certain of:

  • No staff, no building, no overhead of any kind.
  • Don’t become defined by our location – so move the location of the meeting routinely.
  • No centralized vision outside of “imitate Jesus.”
  • Avoid all things that wreak of institution.
  • Everyone has a tribe – a group of people he/she is imitating Jesus among.

There were more, but you get the idea.  If you can’t tell, in the beginning we knew clearly what we didn’t want to look like…but we weren’t so sure on what we did want to look like.

At first we took the form of an AA or NA group.  We would all sit around a table and process each Core Principle, one at a time.  I would read from the official sheet, “We believe that we should be living a life of humility – understanding our need for God, we will be defined by our transparent, sincere brokenness.”  Then I would ask, “How did that go this week?” and everyone would look at their shoes.  The consensus typically was that we all failed at all the Principles week after week.  As you can imagine, this got old quick.

We moved from that to trying to a season of each group member bringing a story and the group discussing it.  Those were great times, but we never recaptured the excitement of that first round.  It was around then that we started calling ourselves “the Thingy.”  A church planting organization asked us to be part of a local cohort they were forming, but we needed to come up with a name.  “The Thingy” was our way of rebelling against convention at the time.

Then we had a season of having no definition for gatherings at all.  We would let our focus be whatever emerged that week.  One meeting would be a hang out time at a pool together.  Then for the next three weeks we would do an in depth look at a topic.  Then maybe a worship focused week would follow that.  Then we might just chill and pray the next week.

With all this talk of stuff shifting and changing I don’t want you to misunderstand.  While the structure of the Thingy was consistently being tweaked and we’ve never really found our niche.  Everyone who has been a part of the Thingy over the last three years has experienced dramatic life change.  The group is amazing.  I love each member deeply and my life has been radically transformed by them.  Constantly changing structure and shifting focus is just part of innovation.

Our last round of tweaking came in the fall of 2011.  The team met and decided that we needed a monthly rhythm of group meetings that rotated between fellowship times, teaching times, and times of worship.  It was a good plan, but it just didn’t work out like we thought.  So over the last two weeks we’ve had more in-depth conversations together.  What is coming next for us is a major shift in approach.  It is bigger than any shift we have made since the inception of the group.  I don’t know anyone else doing what we are getting ready to do; which makes the venture both exciting and terrifying.

But before I begin explaining what the next stage for us is going to look like, I need to further explain the “why” question.  In my next post I’m going to talk about my frustrations with our past strategies.  After that I will post on what I’ve loved about our various approach.  Then finally I will lay out what is going to happen next for us.

To understand my frustrations you need to know that through all those iterations of the Thingy, a few things have remained constant:

  • There were never more than 15 adults in our membership at any given time.
  • We always tried to meet weekly.  The locations changed (we’ve met in restaurants, coffee houses, parks, and members homes) and day of the week changed (pick a day and we’ve tried to meet on it)  but our goal was always weekly connection.

Over the last years here are the four things that have frustrated me:

1) People couldn’t understand how we were different than a church small group…just without a worship service.  

For me the Thingy has always been night and day different from small group strategies most church goers are familiar with.  We’ve had no centralized leadership.  We’ve had no overhead.   We’ve focused on imitating Jesus in our individual communities (which we called tribes) by each member living as a missionary – so there were never any ministry programs or top-down visions.   Growing the group numerically was never our goal.  Rather, imitating Jesus in the community was our goal.  For me this philosophy to church was exciting and innovative, and it made our group something different than what I had participated in before.

But what people outside of the team saw was a group of less than 15 adults meeting in a house, and there were Bibles present.  It’s a church small group…just not connected to a worship service with a pastor.

“No.  No.  No,” I would cry.  “This is a completely different philosophy about being the church together.  Don’t you see that we are free from the institution!”

They would reply, “Nah.  You meet in a home.  You have a small number of people.  You pray and stuff.  Same.  Church small group and Thingy = Same.  And actually, can I attend the Thingy and a worship service?  That’s really what you guys are missing – a rocking awesome worship service.”

And then I would go back to my small team members, sit on my couch across from them, sip coffee, read the Bible, and complain to myself about how “no one understands us.”

2) Barriers to Membership

Because our core was a small amount of people who knew each other well and had experienced life change together visiting the group could be an awkward experience.   At a meeting it was normal for team members to share personal experiences from their weeks.  These personal experiences each had back stories.  Every time a new person came into the room I felt the pain of, “They don’t really get what this story is all about because they haven’t seen the progression over the last five weeks.”

It didn’t help that our understanding of what it means to be part of a church was so radically different from the culture around us (see #1).  To fully appreciate what was happening in the room there were big mental leaps a person had to make in their understanding of church and discipleship.

Before the Thingy I did a lot of work building small group systems for churches.  So in the Fall of 2010 I had a mild panic because I’ve read all the small group strategy books.  I knew that if a small group doesn’t grow to multiplication level within a year and a half from its inception then it will become a closed group and never grow.  Instead of facing this reality though I declared to the voice in my head, “Shut your pie hole jerk face!  This is different!  We aren’t attached to an institution. YOU  DON’T KNOW!  YOU DON’T KNOW!”

Attached to an institution or not…group dynamics are group dynamics.  Fighting them is like trying to fight the laws of physics.  It’s going to take a miracle of Exodus level proportions to overcome natural trends.

3) Building and maintaining momentum was really difficult.

One of the things I’ve learned over that last three years is the importance of momentum.  This is something the Attractional model of church does really well.  (For those not in on contemporary church lingo, the Attractional strategy of church focuses on putting on big events – service projects, concerts, kid events, and/or especially worship services – that draw people in and try to get them to stick.  If you’ve ever been told to “invite your friends” to a church worship service then you are at some level practicing the Attractional strategy.)  When you come into the room of an attractional worship service there is a critical mass of people present.  Being part of a large group makes you feel like something is happening.  There is movement in a direction.  The ball feels like it is being pushed somewhere.  This momentum brings with it excitement and a longing to be a part of whatever is happening.  We all have a deep need to make a difference, to see something significant happen.  Momentum makes us feel like we are a part of something bigger than ourselves that is going to change the world.

The problem with the momentum of the attractional model is that it doesn’t deliver.  It is an ever growing monster that consumes all the resources of the community being built to sustain the constant growth needed in order to produce the momentum the monster thrives on.  Not to mention that discipleship doesn’t happen in a crowd and that focus on creating an event destroys the life of mission Jesus called us to.  (I’ll stop now.  That is not what this post is about.)

The problem with the Thingy was that group momentum was hard build and even harder to maintain.  We would have three great meetings in a row at which  I-Imitated-Jesus-and-Cool-Stuff-Happened stories would be shared, or new people would come into the group, or we would leave challenged, and momentum would start to build.  Everyone would feel great about the group.  But then we would try to meet and two couples couldn’t make it, or the conversation would be stale and momentum would disappear, or the visitor wouldn’t come back (in a room of a couple hundred visitors come and go and no one notices.  When there are only eight people and someone doesn’t come back you notice).  And momentum would die.

Ever sit in a really hot room with no air flow?  Welcome to church life with no momentum.

4) Attendance at the weekly meeting unintentionally came  to equal membership.

From the beginning our goal was to redefine church as a team of people who struggled together to imitate Jesus in the world.  Joining the church (the Thingy) was supposed to be about adopting a lifestyle and sharing a mission.  Membership in the team was never supposed to be about participation in programming.  But then one team member didn’t show up for three months.  During that time new people started attending the weekly gatherings that did not know the missing team member.  When the missing member was finally able to return to a meeting, he was the visitor.  Our practice of meeting weekly overcame our philosophy of church.

This still makes me so angry with myself.  In hindsight I see that there is much about our philosophy of church that has been exciting, and unique, and pushing the envelop.  Our practice of church has been standard.  It never mattered how radical our thinking was.  Behavior trumps thinking every time.  Or as Andy Stanley once said, “It’s not what’s hanging on the wall that matters.  It’s what is happening done the hall.”  We thought we were going outside the box…but we really had just moved to the edges.

Here are four things I think we got right over the last three years…

1) The sharing of Jesus’ love through imitation as the reason for the church.

In other churches I’ve been a part of the church itself was the end goal.  Why did we have Sunday School and Worship services?  Why did we make the change for Sunday School to Small groups?  Why did we learn evangelism tricks and go to great lengths to talk about Jesus?  To grow the church.  Why did we work to let our friends know how excited we were about everything happening on the church calendar?  Why did we find creative reasons to invite them to attend (pancake breakfasts, special speakers, musicals, concerts, etc…)?  To grow the church.  Why did we do after school programs, and put on basketball leagues, and throw block parties?  To grow the church.  Everything we did had the end goal of growing the organization we called the church.

One of the things we did right with the Thingy was to change the definition of success.  I knew the Thingy was having a successful week when people shared stories about how they had lived as demonstrations of Jesus’ love in their communities.  It didn’t matter if there were three of us there or if the whole team was present.  In fact often group members (myself included) would miss gatherings because they were hanging out with people from their tribes – and we considered that a win.

In the Thingy I’ve found a church that exists to be on mission with God.  For us growing a gathering of believers has never been the point.  The point has been (and will continue to be) living on mission with God, sharing His love in the world.

2) The death of ambition and growth of surrender.

Part of changing the score card for me has been the death of ambition.  I’m speaking of both personal and organizational ambition.  When we were only a few months into the Thingy a church planting guru took several of us out to eat.  He asked us what our vision was for the group.  Like a good ambitious church planter, I reveled in the dreams of multiplication and unprecedented movement like growth. On the surface this was ambition for my organization (which is a form of ambition contemporary church culture considers acceptable).  Under the surface though lurked personal ambition to be known as the leader of such a movement.

As the Thingy went along and I battled fiercely with personal and organizational ambition.  Nothing ever happened on my timeline.  Strategies I thought would be the magic bullet that would solve all the problems of Baltimore and make a great name for me amounted to nothing.  Finally it all died in me.  Through the death I learned that (for me anyway) organizational ambition always leads to personal ambition.  There is great freedom living in the freedom of, “How ever you want to use us Lord, we are available.”

3) Discussing the Bible for life change.

This was something that flowed from the group.  Read a passage and then ask, “How should our lives change because of this?”  Fantastic discussion came from that simple question.

4) Every member has a tribe.

When we began we were faced with a choice: imitate Jesus together as a group, or individually in our own worlds.  We weren’t involved in the same circles, so to pull off the “do it together” approach we would have needed to leave areas of life and start new stuff together.  Instead (slightly inspired by Seth Godin) we decided that each member should develop his/her own mission field.  This move helped with so many other aspects of our team culture.  We never needed money for events.  There wasn’t a need for centralized leadership and vision to organize stuff.  People were free to explore their giftings and interests, not needing to serve the greater good in an area they wouldn’t otherwise care about.   We called the groups of people we sought to imitate Jesus among “Tribes.”

5) Membership defined through lifestyle not through programs.

In theory joining the Thingy meant adopting a lifestyle of imitating Jesus in a tribe.  I don’t know that we have accomplished this yet.     As I wrote before, attendance at the weekly meeting has always competed with this thinking; but I believe making this understanding a reality is the key to redefining what it means to live as the church in the future.  My next post will contain more on this – I will write about what the Thingy is now and the changes we have made.

There are three types of  gatherings institutional churches need to grow in our current culture:

  1. Gatherings of intimacy in which people can share, be vulnerable, and grow to know others.
  2. Strategic work gatherings where brainstorming, planning, and productivity happen.
  3. Inspirational gatherings where the entire community is brought around the mission and vision.

Last night in a meeting I asked a group of 12 leaders to be vulnerable.  They did great, but my request was pushing their comfort levels.  Vulnerability in our culture demands trust.  We don’t just open up and admit our failures to any Joe Sha-moe.  If we want people to be open and honest about their struggles, to reveal their inner turmoils, to stop caring how they are perceived in a room, then we need to take in account group size.

I find I’m most comfortable being intimate with groups less than four people around.    If I have a strong, long term relationships with everyone in the room, I can push that group size to ten or twelve.

Think about it.  Where have your most intimate, personal, life probing conversations taken place?  My guess would be with a very small group (maybe even just one other person) and there was probably some sort of food or refreshment involved to break the ice.

In our culture, intimacy happens in small groups – ideally less than ten.

I love to workshop ideas.  I love pulling out white boards, asking compelling questions, and watching a group build a solution together.  It’s always great.  When something truly innovative is produced, it is off the charts awesome.   For me, the best size group to do this with is around twelve.  Less than five and you don’t get enough conversation-juice going.  More than twenty and people get left out or the session goes to long.  Twelve to fifteen is the sweet spot.  Twelve to fifteen = great size for strategic teamwork.

This goes for hands on projects as well.  If I take twenty-five people to garden, I’m going to run around finding stuff for some of them to do.   If I take six people, we aren’t going to get it done.  A team of around fifteen is just right.

In our culture, strategic work happens in groups of twelve to twenty.  

Large groups are great for inspiring participants.  Being in a full room makes us feel a part of something larger than ourselves.  (This is type of connection is growing in importance in our culture.)  A large group is key to  generating and sustaining momentum.  In my experience, these groups need to be larger than twenty people and fill between 70 to 80% of the meeting space.  Less than twelve people and you are having a group discussion, not a time of whole group inspiration.  (There is an “unless” here.  A charismatic/dynamic leader can transform any size room into an inspirational moment…but those leaders are rare.  I certainly am not one.)

In our culture, inspirational moments are best in groups larger than twenty that fill the space between 70 to 80% capacity.

To be clear, I don’t have any hard research to go with this.  It’s just gut experience.

One of the things that didn’t work with the Thingy was that we completely ignored the need for inspiration (something I will discuss more in my next post) and tried to force intimacy and strategic work into the same space  – a move which always held us back.

 

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