Ask These Questions to Discover Your Community Context

The community does not exist primarily for the church but the church for the community.

Gaines S. Dobbins

This quote by Gaines S. Dobbins in “Building Better Churches” underscores the importance of understanding the context of the “place” a church finds itself in. Here is a sampling of some questions church leaders ought to be asking on a regular basis:

  • Has the church a plan for studying and knowing its territory?
  • Has the church a map or maps of its territory and outlying districts?
  • Has the church accurate information as to population statistics such as age, race, and occupation?
  • Is the church reasonably informed as to economic conditions in the community?
  • Has the church ever made a study of community health conditions?
  • Has the church any plan of active cooperation with the schools in the community?
  • Does the church take an active interest in providing or encouraging better cultural advantage?
  • Is the church aware of and making any contribution toward the solution of the problem of delinquency?
  • Has the church any program for the improvement of family life?
  • Is the church building wholesome community consciousness and developing civic pride?
  • Is the church promoting good citizenship?
  • Is the church promoting neighborliness?

Sounds like questions taken from the latest writings on leadership and vision, right?

Wrong – they were written in 1947, near the end of Dobbins’ career as a professor of Christian education. For over 25 years Dr. Dobbins used knowledge like this to train young pastors as they prepared to begin serving in churches across the world.

We would do well today to remember his teachings.

Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Our capacity for learning is a part of being a human being. From birth, we are on a fast track of learning – movement, speech, understanding, and so forth. Unfortunately, many people equate “learning” with “schooling,” and when you’re done with school, you’re done with learning.

We are uniquely endowed with the capacity for learning, creating, and growing intellectually – and it doesn’t have an expiration date tied to an event, like graduation.

The practice of lifelong learning has never been more important to leaders than it is today. The necessity of expanding your knowledge through lifelong learning is critical to your success.

Take reading, for example. Many of the most successful people in today’s organizations read an average of 2-3 hours per day. No longer limited to books, reading is a lifelong learning activity that can be done online anywhere at anytime.

Learning is the minimum requirement for success as a leader. Because information and knowledge on everything is increasing every day, your knowledge must also increase to keep up.

Learning how to learn is more important than ever. Dedicate yourself to trying and learning new ideas, tasks, and skills. You don’t need to be aware of everything all the time but learning new skills faster and better – that in itself is a tough skill to master.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Book of Beautiful Questions by Warren Berger

From the bestselling author of A More Beautiful Question, hundreds of big and small questions that harness the magic of inquiry to tackle challenges we all face–at work, in our relationships, and beyond.

By asking questions, we can analyze, learn, and move forward in the face of uncertainty. But “questionologist” Warren Berger says that the questions must be the right ones; the ones that cut to the heart of complexity or enable us to see an old problem in a fresh way.

In The Book of Beautiful Questions, Berger shares illuminating stories and compelling research on the power of inquiry. Drawn from the insights and expertise of psychologists, innovators, effective leaders, and some of the world’s foremost creative thinkers, he presents the essential questions readers need to make the best choices when it truly counts, with a particular focus in four key areas: decision making, creativity, leadership, and relationships.

The powerful questions in this book can help you:
– Identify opportunities in your career or industry
– Generate fresh ideas in business or in your own creative pursuits
– Check your biases so you can make better judgments and decisions
– Do a better job of communicating and connecting with the people around you

Thoughtful, provocative, and actionable, these beautiful questions can be applied immediately to bring about change in your work or your everyday life.


Nothing has such power to cause a complete mental turnaround as that of a question. Questions spark curiosity, curiosity creates ideas, and ideas lead to making things better.

Questions are powerful means to employ (read unleash) creative potential – potential that would otherwise go untapped and undiscovered.

When we are confronted with almost any demanding situation, in work or in life, simply taking the time and effort to ask questions can help guide us to better decisions and a more productive course of action. But the questions must be the right ones – the ones that cut to the heart of a complex challenge or enable us to see an old problem in a new light.

Questions can help steer you in the right direction at critical moments when you’re trying to 1) decide on something; 2) create something; 3) connect with other people; and 4) be a good and effective leader.

Decision-making demands critical thinking – which is rooted in questioning. It’s up to each of us to make more enlightened judgments and choices. Asking oneself a few well-considered questions before deciding on something can be surprisingly effective in helping to avoid the common traps of decision-making.

Creativity often depends on our ability, and willingness, to grapple with challenging questions that can fire the imagination. For people within an organization trying to innovate by coming up with fresh ideas for a new offering or an individual attempting to express a vision in a fresh and compelling way, the creative path is a journey of inquiry.

Our success in connecting with others can be improved dramatically by asking more questions – of ourselves and of the people with whom we’re trying to relate. While many of us tend to rely on generic “How are you?” questions, more thoughtful and purposeful questions can do a better job of breaking the ice with strangers or bonding with clients and colleagues.

Leadership is not usually associated with questions – leaders are supposed to have all the answers – but it is becoming increasingly clear that the best leaders are those with the confidence and humility to ask the ambitious, unexpected questions that no one else is asking. Today’s leaders must ask the questions that anticipate and address the needs of an organization and its people, questions that set the tone for curious exploration and innovation, and questions that frame a larger challenge others can rally around.

Warren Berger, The Book of Beautiful Questions


Developing the art of questioning does not require an advanced degree. As a matter of fact, one of the best ways to learn how to become a better questioner is to learn from the typical four-year-old girl.

If you have ever been a parent, you understand this. Studies show that children at this age may ask anywhere from 100 to 300 questions per day. While it may seem like child’s play, it’s actually a complex, high-order level of thinking. It requires enough awareness to know that one does not know – and the ingenuity to begin to do something about it.

Ask “why.”

To begin to develop the abilities of a better questioner, consider the broad questions developed by author Warren Berger in each of the four areas listed above.


  • Why do I believe what I believe? (And what if I’m wrong?)
  • Why should I accept what I’m told?
  • What if this isn’t a “yes or no” decision?
  • How would I later explain this decision to others?


  • Why create?
  • Where did my creativity go?
  • What is the world missing?
  • What if I allow myself to begin anywhere?

Connecting with others

  • Why connect?
  • What if I go beyond “How are you?”
  • How might I listen with my whole body?
  • What if I advise less and inquire more?


  • Why do I choose to lead?
  • What’s going on out there – and how can I help?
  • Am I looking for what’s broken – or what’s working?
  • Do I really want a culture of curiosity?

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 113-3, released February 2019


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<



Honoring the Learning Legacy of Lyle Schaller

Lyle Schaller, one of the most influential voices in the American church since the 1960s, passed away on March 18 at age 91.

Like many church leaders my age (57) Lyle Schaller was an early – and often – mentor via his writings. Although I was fortunate to hear him speak several times, it was his writing prowess that captured my mind.

After graduating from college with an accounting degree, but knowing I had been called into ministry, I began my theological studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1981. My calling was specific – and off the beaten path, at least at that time.

My calling was that of a support role, a second-chair leadership role, providing leadership and direction to churches in the area of business administration, facilities management, and communications. When I began my seminary studies, there wasn’t a track in that area, but I was able to link together combination of classes in my field of choice that laid a solid foundation for my continuing education – both on the field as a staff member for 23 years, and as a consultant for an additional 11 years to date.

Central to that foundation was the work that Lyle Schaller had been doing since the late 1960s, when he left a career in urban planning to go to seminary, pastoring for several years, but then moving to his true calling: that of a consultant to churches.

Schaller’s books were required reading for all my classes in administration and leadership. My first trip to the seminary bookstore included not only Old Testament, theology, and church history textbooks, but a healthy selection of small (compared to the others) books by Schaller. The first title in my growing collection of his books was “Parish Planning: How to Get Things Done in Your Church.”

With all my college business administration classes fresh in mind, Schaller’s writings were like a deep breath walking into my mother’s kitchen after being away for a while – the aroma of wonderful food bringing both a comfort of being “home” and the promise of good things to follow.

Don’t get me wrong – I thoroughly enjoyed my required Bible, theology, and church history classes (so much that my seminary minor was in Baptist History). But the way Schaller wrote about “business” stuff in a “church” world really resonated with me.

My advisor and primary professor, Dr. Ralph Hardee, introduced me to a whole new world of Schaller’s work, even that beyond his books. Columns from magazines and articles from newsletters soon joined my growing library of Schaller’s works (now numbering over 50 books, a portion you see below).


Almost as soon as I began my seminary studies, I also began serving on a church staff. As the newest of a 15-member vocational ministry staff, I was eager to accept the mentoring given to me by the other staff members. It didn’t take long to see that they, too, had been influenced by Lyle Schaller in their early formative years over the past decades. Many times I remember a conversation among our staff beginning with the words, “Lyle Schaller has this to say about…”

Following graduation from seminary I stayed on at that church staff, and my education began in earnest – you know, the “real world” that comes crashing in on newly graduated students!

Part of that real world also included connecting with other leaders in churches and organizations across the country – the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources), Leadership Network, NACBA, NACDB, NACFA – hundreds of peers.

It didn’t take long in our conversations for Schaller’s name to come up: “ We’re dealing with (insert problem here) and this is what Lyle Schaller wrote about it.” We would all nod, and add our own experience and Schaller connection to the conversation.

As my responsibilities soon outpaced my knowledge, I began to immerse myself not just in the works of Lyle Schaller, but in what I consider to be his most important gift to all church leaders – the importance of asking questions.

As Schaller interacted with church leaders, he sifted through their stories by asking, “What have you learned that I need to know?” He says that’s a much better question than, “What do you think we should do?”

– Warren Bird – Wisdom from Lyle Schaller

That quote above, for me, sums up the ongoing contribution that Lyle Schaller has made to my personal growth and development as a church leader.

Or, he stated it,

The moral is that you can learn more by listening than by talking, more by asking questions than offering answers.

The organization I work for, Auxano, has been heavily influenced by Lyle Schaller. Our Founder, Will Mancini, calls Schaller “the prototype for Auxano’s Navigators (consultants).”

In a small way to honor Lyle Schaller for the contributions he has made to the life and legacy of the American Church, many of our team will be writing, Tweeting, and posting to Facebook and Instagram today.

We’re using #LyleLearnings to connect the thoughts of not only our team but many others. If you haven’t already, do a quick search of that hashtag – #LyleLearnings – and you will become the next in a long line of eager learners impacted by Lyle E. Schaller.

I close with a Scripture that came to mind as soon as I learned of Schaller’s death:

And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

– 2 Timothy 2:2


That’s four generations of learning – from Paul to Timothy to faithful men to others.

That was Lyle Schaller.

May his firm but graceful way of asking questions continue to be passed on for generations to come.



Lyle Schaller 1923-2015

Great Minds Ask Great Questions

Tom Peters – Seth Godin – Leonardo da  Vinci: a unique trio?

All of us come into the world curious.

I saw it in the birth and development of each of my four children. In different but equally valid ways, I see it in my 5 1/2-year-old grandson, my 3-year-old granddaughter, my 1 year-old granddaughter, and my 5 month-old granddaughter.

We’ve all got it; the challenge is using and developing it for our own benefit. I think our curiosity is at its highest from birth through our first few years. A baby’s every sense is attuned to exploring and learning – everything is an experiment. They don’t know it yet; to them it’s just survival. Then in a few months, or years, their curiosity becomes vocal:

• Daddy, how do birds fly?

• Mommy, what does a worm eat?

• Why? How? When? What?

It’s easy to lose our curiosity as we grow into adulthood – after all, we think we know it all (or at least everything we need to know.)

Not really.

Great, growing, learning minds go on asking confounding questions with the same intensity as your curious three-year old. A childlike sense of wonder and insatiable curiosity will compel you to always be a learner.

From Seth Godin:

I’ve noticed that people who read a lot of blogs and a lot of books also tend to be intellectually curious, thirsty for knowledge, quicker to adopt new ideas and more likely to do important work. I wonder which comes first, the curiosity or the success?

From Tom Peters:

Swallow your pride, especially if you are a “top” boss. Ask until you understand. The “dumber” the question, the better! Ask! Ask! Ask! (Then ask again!). Above all, sweat the details – the weird, incomprehensible “little” thing that appears in Footnote #7 to Appendix C that doesn’t make sense to you. Probe until you find out what it means.

From Leonardo da Vinci:

Do you not see how many and varied are the actions which are performed by men alone? Do you not see how many different kinds of plants and animals there are? What variety of hilly and level places, and streams and rivers, exist? I roam the countryside searching for answers to things I do not understand. These questions engage my thought throughout my life.

A few questions for you:

• How curious are you?

• When was the last time you sought knowledge simply for the pursuit of truth?

• Do you know curious (really curious) people?

• Do you want to be a lifelong learner?

Without “why?” there can be no “here’s how to make it better.”


Drowning in Data?

How frequently does data overload affect you?



Christopher Frank and Paul Magnone, authors of Drinking from the Fire Hose, want you to take a short quiz. Answer each question with either “frequently” or “infrequently.” Give yourself one point for each time you answer “frequently.” If you score a 5 or higher, you probably want to come back tomorrow to look at some excerpts of their solution to drowning in data.

  • How often do you sit through a meeting that’s more about reporting the numbers than about learning from them?
  • How often do you leave a meeting with more questions than answers?
  • How often do your colleagues spend more time presenting the data than they do discussing the implications?
  • How often do you feel that preexisting beliefs affect the way data is interpreted?
  • Once the results are reported, how often does the conversation end up going down the dame old path instead of developing any new insights?
  • How often do you see data cited to confirm a point of view instead of to spark fresh insight?
  • How often do you learn nothing actionable from a data set?
  • How often do you feel you have to make a decisions before you’ve been able to review all the data at hand?
  • How often do you feel that you could make better decision for the organization if you just had a little more time?

Tomorrow: How to find truly essential nuggets of information and use them with confidence.