Category Archives: next sentence

age before beauty

I work in a church building. We have Sunday school classes for adults.

When I started two years ago, there was a folder that listed them all by class title. It told the name of the class, the age bracket, the location, the teacher’s name, and a brief explanation of the group written by the group.

hope and meI made it pretty. I turned it into a trifold, put a catchy title on the front, put a picture on the back. I edited the copy a bit, but didn’t want to mess with what people said. All the classes are interested in helping people grow and learn and build relationships. Most of the classes don’t talk about what makes them demographically and microculturally distinct.

It was a nice, generic piece.

And I put the name of the class in bold type.

Yesterday while I was pouring dirt on a table in the middle of the hallway, a friend said, “I was talking to a couple people last night. Someone was visiting last week. The people trying to help the guest figure out what class to go to couldn’t find anything that told about the classes. They found a list of the classes on a map, but nothing about them.”

As I drove to work today, ready to address that problem with information for our welcome center people (the people that had been trying to help). I thought about my pretty brochure, the one that had been on the counter, right where they were. The piece that no one saw.

This afternoon, I took the pretty brochure and turned it into a two page, front and back piece that in 20 point type says “9:00am” on one side and “10:15 am” on the other. Then, in 18 point type I list the age bracket/life stage for each class. And then, in 12 point, I list the rest of the information.

It’s not pretty design for the people in the classes. There are no pictures. There is no cute title.

But that brochure didn’t work.

Now it’s functional design for people trying to help new people find a starting point.

Age before beauty. It’s the polite thing to do.

For more on communicating, here’s my teaching and learning page.

For more on communicating in churches, here’s my free ebook called Unchurchy: reflections on communication and church


so what, exactly, do you want them to learn

Earlier this week, I challenged us to think about teaching someone something this week. This post takes you down that road by helping you think about what, exactly, you are wanting to teach.


Teachers and speakers know all about outcomes.

But even we forget.

When we remember, however, we start our preparation for every training session, every lesson, every speech, by completing a simple sentence: “When I have finished speaking (teaching, whatever), my audience will be able to ___.”

Outcomes are about behaviors

a ruler on a study guide. measuring outcomesAn outcome is what you want an audience (whether a class or a small group or your friend Dave who can’t tell PEZ dispensers apart) to be able to do as a result of your interaction with them. It doesn’t apply to every interaction. Sometimes speaking is for entertainment or so everyone can say that they were together. In that case, the sentence reads, “when I have finished speaking I will have spoken.”

But if you want to help learning happen, whether in a formal session or in an informal “how do I do this” conversation, write an outcome.

  • It puts the emphasis on what your audience will be able to do.
  • It allows the audience behavior to be measured as a way to find out whether you did what you wanted to do.
  • It creates accountability.

Measuring abstract lessons

Good outcomes are stated in terms of measurable behavior. But what if what you are teaching isn’t measurable? If you are teaching someone how to change a lightbulb, you can easily test whether they know it by handing them a lightbulb and a fixture. If you are encouraging someone to be more faithful (to friends, to spouses, to God), how can you measure that?

Perhaps you could teach one way to know if you are sliding toward breaking faith and you could teach them that way. Perhaps you know that faithfulness is enhanced by focused time and you could explain ways to clear your schedule.

But wait, you say, the topic is “be more faithful.” If I talk about clearing my schedule, that’s too specific. I mean, they will walk out with some ideas about finding cheap dates or scheduling or finding a quiet place to pray or something, but that’s not my topic.

(I’ll let you read that again and decide whether you really want to raise that argument. Teaching that brings about change in lives or the world always involves behavior. Work til you find the behavior. Then teach it. It will foster faithfulness)

What if all I know is PEZ?

Some of you are teachers. You know this. But some people who read this post are not teachers. You don’t lead classes or small groups. You don’t give presentations to thousands of people on the internet.

I know. But you, sitting in your darkened room reading this post, interacting only with a couple people a day, you teach. Or you could.

What if you decided that the next time someone asks how to tell the difference between old and new Pez dispensers, you were going to teach them three ways to tell: patent numbers, mold codes, and place of manufacture.

When we have finished talking, my friend will be able to identify Pez dispensers by age markers.

You have five samples on hand. You show them three. You then give them the fourth as a text. They guess wrong. You review. You show them the fifth. They get it right. You give it to them.

They learned something. They know it. You know it.

As you teach something to someone this week, establish a simple measurable outcome.

(thanks to Rob Hatch for a bit of inspiration)

How you get them to show up, part one.

“Pastor Jon, how can we get more people to register for our event?”

“Pastor Jon, we need someone to volunteer to teach that class. They are great kids. How can we get someone to help?”

“Jon, we’re doing a new 6-week study. Everyone should sign up.  I mean, it will be life-changing. But no one is. How can we make them come?”

Those are some of the questions I get asked regularly. (Or wish I got asked more often). I try to answer, but it is right before the event or I’m in the middle of something else, or we are having the conversation in the hallway on Sunday morning with 2 minutes until the next event starts.

I realized this morning that I could help myself and the people in our congregation who are planning events (and maybe you, especially for your nonprofit-related projects) by actually answering those questions before they are asked, before the last minute, perhaps even before the event is scheduled.  (This is part of “putting it on paper”, an idea you can read about in my post “simultaneous lives.”)

I’ll talk about a bunch of things as we go along. I may even spin stuff off to a new website. But I’ll give you one idea right now. One idea that can help get people to show up for events and volunteer for projects and sign up for studies and help you change the world.

Because that’s what you are about, right? I mean, the reason that you are pouring your energy and the energy of volunteers and the attention of the whole congregation or nonprofit organization or conference into this event or study or class is because it is about changing the world, right?

You looked at the outline you wrote for this study and you looked in the mirror and said, “I’ve done everything I could to make this provide as much return on investment for these people as I possibly could.” You’ve talked with the facilitators and can say, “these people care about lives way more than they care about attention.” You’ve taken care of the food and the childcare and the temperature and the planning team and every possible detail.

You haven’t?

You need to.

Peter Drucker says, “The non-profit organization exists to bring about a change in individuals and in society.”  (Managing the Nonprofit Organization sponsored link). We are asking people for limited resources and want to give them maximum opportunity to have that impact.

So my first question for helping them show up is this: “Have you honestly asked yourself how this will help them change the world?”

Go work on that. I’ll be back soon.

the next post

It was huge, that post. Not that we care about traffic, mind you, but somehow everyone came. It may have been the Brogan bump, the traffic that comes when Chris puts your post or blog on Twitter. It may be because we had a really trendy word (technically known as a keyword) that everyone was looking for. It may have been because all of our friends linked to that post. Whatever the cause, it was a huge day.

It was horrible, that post. Everything that was cranky, mean-spirited, small, and critical in the last six months somehow got poured into that one 300 word screed. And we would have deleted it but we didn’t. And people saw it. And we just couldn’t delete it then.

So what do you do after a wonderful or a horrible post?

Write like you have been writing.

[I suppose I should offer a disclaimer. This is not intended for people trying to build traffic, to make money from their blog, to blog their business. This is not intended for people wanting to maximize SEO or  ad income. This is for the majority of us who are finding and using our voice.]

When I was starting grad school at the University of Texas, I received an A on my very first short paper in my very first class. Unfortunately, there were no comments. So I asked the prof. He couldn’t tell me much other than, “what you did worked.” I wanted more. I wanted to know how I measured up, why I got the A. As I remember, I tried to figure it out so I could write for the A. What I should have done is to just keep writing like I had been writing. The grade, the bump, the kind remark is helpful, but I should be writing for to help people understand or to help myself understand. To suddenly say, “if person X gave me a shout out for that, I’ll write more exactly like that” is foolish. (which is not to say that I’ve not done that.)

On the other hand, when I had a bad lecture one day, I had a prof tell me that everyone has a bad day teaching. Everyone has a class session where everything goes wrong, where you feel completely unprepared, where you seem to offend everyone. The secret, he said, is to not have two bad classes in a row.

You get to have a bad post. The question is, what will you do with the next one that is more thoughtful, more intentional, more respectful and respectable?

You are, I am, post by post finding a voice, building a presence. There will be highs and lows. There will be wildly successful posts (as measured by traffic) and wildly successful posts (as measured by individual emails that say “I needed that.”) There will be horrible posts (as measured by traffic) and horrible posts (as measured by an absence of grace or of integrity).

The secret is…there is no secret.

Just write the next post.

Write like you have been writing.

This is another occasional entry in the next sentence series. Follow that link for the previous sentence.

the next prayer

img00093So my friend Rob sends me a text today.

“Keep your guests on other blogs…my .02.”

He’s talking about the conversation that has been happening on my earlier post about guest writers, a conversation that I have enjoyed.

Less than two hours later, he’s sending me a picture, saying “One more post for you today.”

Some people, you know? I mean, after three posts already, what could possible be worth another one. You will be sick of hearing from me. And after saying to keep people off, he’s wanting his own picture up.

But then I looked at the picture, from a church in Maine. And I knew that Rob was right.

As I write this, the polling place 50 feet from where I am sitting is still open. It will close at 6:00pm, 15 minutes from now. And then the results that have been held in abeyance through the day will begin to come out. And people will cheer and cry and laugh and mope. People will start planning for the next election, the next struggle, the next….

But for people who have a conversational relationship with God, there is one thing to do first. No matter which name was next to the button you pushed, pray.

For the person who will, before the night is over, be president. For the senators and representatives. For the judges. For the county assessors. For the coroner (yes, I voted for coroner today). For the state representatives. For the county commissioners and school board members.

For protection. For wisdom. For strength. For chocolate milk.

(But please not for “seeing things my way.”)

I agree with the sign: “Now…pray for them.”

The next piece

You are in the middle of a presentation. You have the audience leaning in. They are tweeting every word. They are writing their own posts in their heads with the wonderful material you are giving them. They are, you are, fully engaged.

Suddenly, a costumed gorilla runs into the room, screams, and runs out.

Everyone sees. Everyone is startled, and then laughs.

Everyone is distracted. People are still tweeting, but now they are talking about what just happened more than about whatever you were saying.

Unless you are one of the people known for having costumed gorillas running through, this is a silly thing to do.

And there probably should only be one of those people.

At any given moment of intentional discourse, any given time where you are putting words and experiences together for a purpose, you have a bag full of pieces. And you have several bags for other games, for other purposes. The temptation, often, is to go for the big effect, for the huge memorable experience, for the huge E, for the screaming gorilla.

Fight that temptation.

You are in a relationship with an audience, you are trying to make the next move, to give others something to build on, to build with. You are trying to take what they have done and thought, add to it in a meaningful way, and give them a chance.

Or you are building a billboard, helping people know what goes on inside as they drive by outside. you want them to stay safe, to catch a glimpse, to have a really clear bit of understanding.

As fun as it is to be remembered for your effects, what would be even cooler would be to be remembered for the thoughtfully built relationships, the way that you wove value into the lives of the people that you knew, the way that you played the next piece, whether on a board or a sign, with respect and awareness of long-term effectiveness.

The gorilla guy is remembered. And copied. And becomes his own parody. The guy who plays the really big E on the gameboard is amusing. Once. But the person who thinks well about the next piece?

She changes the world.


This is another occasional entry the next sentence series. Follow that link for the previous sentence.

Teaching as a performance – TNS part 3

I’m involved with people trying to make a difference, people trying to help people grow.

I watch people teach lessons, tell stories, give sermons and speeches. I help people plan events, whether church services or training seminars or concerts. I spend time talking in small groups or individually with people who are wanting to understand how to sense of stuff, whether computers or relationships or life or God.

You do too.

We know that it’s important to consider the next sentence, the sentence after the great illustration, the followup after the great event. The last two posts have been about the idea of the next sentence. I talked about where the idea came from and then told you about a recent instance of forgetting the idea.

The next two posts in this series are going to talk about why we neglect to plan the next sentence, the next step.

Reasons we forget: Teaching as a performance

There is always a performing component to teaching. There is something about a group that sparks something. But if we look at teaching as a performance, we are in trouble.

When you are giving a performance, you are playing a role. You turn it on, you turn it off. You memorize the lines without thinking about them. They may not even be your lines. And the measure of a performance is, did I make them laugh or cry? Did I entertain them? Was it good? Was I good?

But the measure of teaching is, the measure of discipling is…what can they do?

There are times for performances. There are times for drama in teaching. But unless you are an artist, only on the way to something.

Where are you after you speak?

That’s one way to tell if you are giving a performance or teaching. After a performance you wait for the applause and go backstage. After a lesson, you are looking into eyes, providing additional explanation. It’s a conversation. It’s clarification. It’s involvement in lives. It’s…it’s….it’s….not just another speech.

Where are the camels?

I’ll tell you a secret about church. Many people only come to the building twice a year: Christmas and Easter. (If there’s a funeral or a wedding or a christening, those are exceptions). The people with that schedule have their reasons. The people who run church often think, “We need to plan big events for those two times. It will be impressive and chreasters will want to come back.” (Yes, that’s what we call you. I’m sorry. I didn’t make it up.)

The problem with that idea is simple: no one has camels on the Sunday after Christmas.

If the goal of gathering from Sunday to Sunday (and in between) is growth, then to have a huge pageant to entertain means that people are entertained, and then incredibly disappointed when there isn’t something entertaining the next week. So people come back the next time there is something entertaining, for the next pageant.

(Truth in advertising time. A couple years ago, after having written and then watched a Christmas drama based on a Cubs fan entitled, of course, “maybe next year”, I walked out of the church building and said to my boss, “time to start working on Easter.” He made me shut up.)

If you want people to grow in understanding, then the next step isn’t the next pageant, it’s a conversation that says, “here’s how to live between the emotional highs.”

“But what do you want me to do?”

So how do you avoid turning lessons and events and stories into performances (if you want more from them)? Next week, we’ll look at several ways to be effective with writing the next sentence. But I have to tell you something now, right? Because otherwise this post is just a performance.

Always give people something to do. Now. Right away. And then one to do in a day. And then one to do in a week. And then for a lifetime. Sound like too much? Chris Brogan talks about giving people Five takeaways in every presentation (and he comes close).

Some people need something right now. Some people need something for a lifetime. Speak to both of those groups.

So what are the takeaways from this? You write them.


Coming up next in this series, why fear keeps us from the next sentence?


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the next sentence – part two

We had a newcomer lunch. We wanted to have something for people who have started coming to church services here within the last year. It’s the first event like that we’ve had around here in at least 13 years.

It seemed like it would make sense to help people get connected, to find out more about who we are and what we believe.

We announced it out loud. We put it in our publications. We sent invitations to everyone we knew of that fit in that demographic.

We had between 20 and 30 people signed up to come. We invited a bunch of staff and a couple elders and the fellowship committee. We had 75 people. We had a great time.

And then I started thinking about the next sentence. I realized I needed to take a next step with that event. So I created a postcard to send to them with four questions.

Thanks for coming to the Newcomer Lunch. 
Those of us who are oldtimers enjoyed it. We hope you did, too.
Because this was the first time we’ve done this,
we would appreciate your help. Would you answer
these questions and drop this card in the offering plate
the next time you come to church? (or hand it to
a staff member or mail it in or attach it to a homing pigeon) 
Pastor Jon Swanson
Our goal was to help you get a clearer picture of Grabill Missionary Church.
1. Given that goal, what was the most helpful part of the hour?

2. Given that goal, what one thing could we do that would make Newcomer Lunches more effective?

3. What were you expecting that we didn’t do?

4. Should we keep doing this?  Yes No
Name (optional)

It was a simple card, inviting another level of involvement.

And then we started looking for addresses. And we realized that we didn’t have a list of the people who showed up. And we didn’t have the list of people who had said they were coming. And we didn’t remember to have people sign a sheet when they filled out a name tag.

We had a great event, we had people wanting to do it again, but we had no way to follow up.

Since then, we’ve been able to build a list of the newcomers. Our people did a wonderful job of mingling and talking and learning names and building connections. And we have already gotten back several cards, with very positive comments.

The lesson? Think about what comes after the thing that you are doing now. After this story, what’s the moral? After this presentation, what’s the followup? After this lesson, what’s the application?

So what’s your story about missing out on the next sentence?


Coming up next in this series, what keeps us from thinking about the next sentence?


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The next sentence – part one

We were planning a church service, several of us. We met every week, talking through how the songs and the drama and the readings could connect to the sermon and to the congregation. We looked at a video, a clip to drop into the sermon.  The video was really cool, really interesting, really entertaining. It seemed to be great to include.

And then Steve, the preacher, asked, “what’s the next sentence?”


“After that video plays, what is the next sentence, the sentence that makes it make sense?”

A great question for the two of us in particular. He is a wonderful communicator. I am a spin master.  And as we thought it through, we realized that there was no way we could move people from the video to the text. There was no connection. If the video stayed, the whole sermon would have to be changed…..including the topic.

By itself, the video was great. There were a number of settings in which it would work. But that sermon on that Sunday for that audience was not the place. It would destroy what was being built.

I wrote those three words, “the next sentence” on a scrap of paper and kept them above my desk. I realized that for every illustration, for every event, for every lesson, for everything that I know captures attention, I need to think about what comes next.

How will I follow that, how can I take that attention, that emotion, that readiness to learn on the part of the audience, and help them learn? Or will I take the mood, the readiness, the anticipation and ruin it with “Wasn’t that a great story? I knew you’d like it. Anyway, back to what we were talking about.”

For the next few posts, I’m going to talk about the next sentence.

Next up? How we completely forgot how to welcome some interested newcomers to our church.


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