Chapter Building: What’s the Problem?

All of us want campus ministry to advance. All of us want to see conversion ministry thrive. All of us want to see students discipled and developed as leaders. So why do we struggle to hit our goals?

If the problem isn’t one of values (we all want ministry to thrive), then we turn to strategy. Assumptions fly around about what ‘works’ in this or that ‘context’. We try something new but don’t get the results we want so we assume the strategy is flawed.

But, what if it’s not a strategy problem?

Many InterVarsity staff and area directors are using the chapter building strategy of “Vision, Structure, People” as a framework for planning. This is helping us to broaden our approach and think through a plan more deeply.

And many of us are using the GROW model to coach plans. We identify the Goal, the Reality, the Obstacles and Options, and the Way Forward. This simple tool helps us see and overcome unforeseen obstacles.

But we still struggle. Again, what if it’s not a strategy problem?

Finding the real problem

I was reflecting recently and it struck me that sometimes we misdiagnose problems as ‘strategic’ that are really something else.

According to Tom Rath in his book, Strengths Based Leadership, there are four categories of leadership that we ought to consider significant in making and executing plans.

1. Strategy: Ok, we’re familiar with this one. It could be a SWOT analysis leading to a plan, or it could be the application of an integrated strategy, such as the new chapter planting model.

2. Influence: Sometimes our plans don’t succeed because we (as staff or student leaders) lack the influence skills to persuade or energize others to adopt the course of action we think is important. We may say, “Well I told them but…”

Are you struggling to keep people’s attention? If you can’t get people to an event or can’t generate enthusiasm for a new idea, then you may have an influence problem.

If you want to improve your communication and influence skills, I recommend starting with these books: The Art of Woo and Communicating for a Change.

3. Relationships: Sometimes our plans don’t succeed because we (as staff or student leaders) lack the relational capital to move things forward. You may hear someone say, “I just feel like you don’t care about us.”

Are students grumbling, or feeling burnt out? Are you getting feedback that students don’t feel like they matter to you? Then you may not have a strategic or influence problem but a relational one.

You can build relational capital effectively and quickly if you are able to recognize the problem and respond. Plan something fun. Learn the ‘love language’ of your students and speak it. Surprise the student leaders with a treat at your next meeting. Ask for feedback.

4. Execution: The best plans fall apart if they aren’t executed well. Execution is about knowing who is responsible for what, and how tasks are going to be accomplished.

Do students show up and wait around for someone to tell them what to do? Is there confusion about who was supposed to bring the t-shirts? Are leaders scrambling at the beginning or at the end of events or meetings, or often starting late (and not noticing the people who leave)? Then you may have an execution problem.

Execution is a leadership discipline that serves people. When it’s done well it doesn’t draw attention to itself. When it’s missing, everyone sees it. There are tons of resources to help you grow in execution.


The next time you have a gap in your ministry (you may be at the R stage in the GROW model), stop and ask yourself: “What type of problem do I have?”

  • What percent of the challenge is strategy?
  • What percent is influence?
  • What percent is relational?
  • What percent is execution?

Try making a chart with four columns and list the contributions according to the type of challenge. Then when you come up with your action steps (The O and W steps of the GROW model) make sure that your solution is appropriately weighted to the true nature of the problem.

Here’s the bottom line: Changing or adjusting strategy is only valuable if you have a strategy problem. What if the gap you are facing isn’t strategic?

I hope this helps stimulate some good thinking and conversation with your partners in ministry. May God unleash your influence, relationships, executive and strategic abilities -- and those of your team.

About the Author
Regional Director

Jason is the Regional Director for the NY/NJ Region, and an Anglican Friar. He and his wife, Sophia, live in New York with their two children. You can find other thoughts from Jason at