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Are you and your church breaking new spiritual ground in 2014? (Lightstock)

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Do you want to take new ground in 2014? Don’t we all?

You’re probably not spending a lot of time figuring out how to avoid or slow down the rate of losing ground (although this Dilbert cartoon has a very funny take on the idea). No, if you wake up in the middle of the night, it’s probably to think about what you need to do to take new ground.

Here are five keys to taking new ground in 2014:

1. Sharpen clarity on your preferred future. One of the most productive things all of us can do is to develop razor-sharp clarity on where we want to go as an organization. If “path, not intent, determines destination” (courtesy of Andy Stanley), then clarity on destination makes the best path obvious. (See also "Start With the End in Mind" and "Choosing What Not to Do." In addition, two excellent resources on this subject are The 7 Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley and Church Unique by Will Mancini.)

2. Be about finding solutions. There are people on almost every team that seem prewired to focus on problem identification. If you want to take new ground, you must build a team that is about finding solutions. Since there are no problem-free solutions anyway, wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have. Colin Powell had it right when he said, “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” (See also "The Pursuit of Problem-Free." An excellent resource on this is Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley.)

3. Ask great questions. Learning to ask great questions is very near the center of great leadership. Whether you develop your own questions or simply develop the skill of collecting and using great questions you hear or read is not important. Making it your practice to insert great questions into your conversations and meetings is essential. Albert Einstein was expressing a similar perspective when he said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” (See also "Supercharge Your Ministry With These 5 Questions.")

4. Develop and celebrate an “others focus.” If you want to take new ground, you will need to become preoccupied with the interests of others. Forever working to provide more and better services for the usual suspects won’t take new ground. New ground is taken only when we begin thinking about and prioritizing the needs and interests of the people we haven’t yet reached. Craig Groeschel has said, “If you want to reach people no one else is reaching, you need to do things no one else is doing.” (See also "Unexamined Expectations About Commitments and Priorities" and "Preoccupied With the Needs and Interests of the Right People.")

5. Refine your menu to offer only the best next steps. While this is a very challenging step (it means disappointing the owners of the sacred cow), it is an important key to taking new ground. There are two underlying truths in this key. First, the more options your menu offers, the more difficult the choice becomes. Second, Peter Drucker pointed out, “Planned, purposeful abandonment of the old and of the unrewarding is a prerequisite to successful pursuit of the new and highly promising. Above all, abandonment is the key to innovation—both because it frees the necessary resources and because it stimulates the search for the new that will replace the old." (See also "How to Make Next Steps Easier to Choose" and "Purposeful Abandonment: Prerequisite to Innovation.")

Mark Howell is the founder of, committed to helping churches launch, build and sustain healthy small group ministries. He's also the pastor of discipleship communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church.

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