Originally posted on Allen White's Blog:
The temptation to start new groups after Easter is fairly irresistible. Easter is by far the largest Sunday of the year. Why not launch groups from the largest crowd you’ll see all year? You might not see them again until Christmas.
But, there are three group killers after Easter: June, July and August. Why start groups in the Spring only to watch them die out over the Summer? It seems they would have a better chance of survival in the Fall.
I have to admit this is exactly what I used to think about launching groups off of Easter, but I had a change of heart once I discovered ways to sustain 80 percent of those new Spring groups in the Fall. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Groups Need a Next Step.
Most new groups do not have an opinion of what they want to study next…
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This last year, I had the privilege of coaching Dr. Tony Evans and his team at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas. When we started the partnership, they had a solid small groups system producing strong incremental growth, but a few adjustments netted a huge dividend.
1. Dr. Evans Produced Curriculum for His Sermon Series
Partnering with The Urban Alternative, Lifetogether helped to produce the first video-based curriculum based on his Destiny book, which was actually shot in Dr. Evans’ home. I am firmly convinced that other than Jesus Christ, the reason anyone joins any church is because of the senior pastor, especially if they are not connected to others in the church through a group, Bible study or class. (Don’t tell the worship pastor. This news will break his heart.)
People are there because they like the senior pastor’s personality and style. They glean from his wisdom and laugh at his jokes. When the senior pastor offers a curriculum featuring his teaching, it’s difficult for the pastor, but it’s a no brainer for his people. They want in!
2. Dr. Evans Invited His Members to Start Groups
On Sunday, September 1, 2013 (Labor Day weekend), Dr. Evans preached a message called The Connection Commandment.
“Even though it depresses me to know you forget my sermons week by week, I do have issues with that, the good news I have for you today is if you just remember two Jesus says everything else hangs on them. You are to love [God] with everything that you got and you are to transfer that to others and when you do you got the whole Bible starting to live inside you because He said the whole scripture depends on just these two,” said Dr. Evans.
He went on to invite people to open their homes and gather groups to grow together. On Labor Day Sunday, 260 people at OCBF said “yes” and turned in a card committing to launch a group. By the time the Destiny series started three weeks later, 500 people offered to start groups.
3. Dr. Evans’ Team Rearranged the Requirements
Intially, small group leaders at OCBF went through extensive training prior leading a small group. In fact, their leadership process is a year long. But, for this series, they reframed what they were asking for. This wasn’t a call to “leadership” per se. This was a call to obedience, because everyone is called to go and make disciples.
After people said they would start a group, the staff made sure everyone was a member at OCBF, which was a requirement. Now, I’ll be honest, I was nervous about this requirement until I discovered the church had 7,000 members. That’s a number I can work with. The staff invited the people starting groups to a one hour orientation to cover the basics, then let them get started with the series. Following the series the church offered additional training to these new leaders. The end result is including all of their small group leaders, new and established, in the same small group system.
What did Dr. Evans and his team do that you haven’t tried yet? What’s holding you back? Leave your comments below.
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Over a decade ago, Rick Warren, Brett Eastman, and the Saddleback staff launched the 40 Days of Purpose campaign, which reached tens of millions of people and tens of thousands of churches. On the eve of the 40 Days launch at Saddleback, a new strategy was born. Rather than inviting people to serve as small group leaders, small group facilitators, or even, gasp, “lay pastors,” Pastor Rick would invite the congregation to become a H.O.S.T. (Heart for God, Open your home, Serve some snacks, and Turn on your VCR — there are other versions of this acronym, but you get the picture).
The strategy was an overnight success. Saddleback signed up 2,000 new group hosts. They didn’t need to be a leader, because the DVD lead the meeting. They didn’t need to be a teacher, because Pastor Rick was their teacher. The host strategy removed the fear factor and the L word (leader). Saddleback has launched thousands of host homes with this strategy. Personally, I’ve launched hundreds of groups in the churches I’ve served in as well as multiplied thousands of groups in the hundreds of churches I’ve had the privilege to coach. But, the H.O.S.T. strategy is becoming a thing of the past. This is why.
1. The Cat is Out of the Bag: “Host” is just another word for “Leader”
For most churches who have launched church-wide campaigns on either a purchased curriculum or have developed their own curriculum, the host home strategy has run it’s course. In our church in Northern California, we did three campaigns a decade ago (Spring, Fall and New Year). We successfully added groups for 1,000 people in a church where our Sunday adult attendance was 800. That’s 125% for those impressed by percentages. But, after three campaigns, the host appeal radically declined. From that point forward, we didn’t get many hosts, but we started getting them another way.
Most people can’t manage 12 people. Either their living rooms are too small or their lives are too crowded to keep up with a dozen people. Yes, Jesus had 12 disciples, but He is the Son of God and didn’t have a day job per se. (If this post isn’t finished, I’ve apparently been struck dead). Moving on.
The trend in small groups is for small groups to be smaller. When Saddleback launched 40 Days of Purpose, the teaching DVDs came bundled with 10 books, but things have changed. In a recent church-wide campaign at Saddleback the ratio shrunk. A DVD now comes with four books. This strategic nuance suggests a move away from setting up folding chairs and a move toward a few friends meeting in the corner of Starbucks or another third place. The “H” word is also going away.
2. Group Fairs and Websites produce weakly connected groups.
Church members will sign up for what the senior pastor supports. Now, there are a few stubborn people who won’t, but life is too short to waste your energy on stubborn people. When the senior pastor stands up and says, “Small groups are the best thing since sliced bread, join one,” most people will think, “I need to sign up for a group.” I would like, “I like small groups, but what was the the best thing BEFORE sliced bread?”
Whether the church holds a small group fair for hosts/leaders to meet prospective members face to face, or sends them to the church website to sign up electronically, or uses a sign up card for the office staff to waste their time assigning people to groups, the bottom line is the church will have lot of groups for 40 days, then a lot of fall off at Day 41. Why?
Most people will do a six week study. Most people will follow the pastor’s lead. Most people will devote a defined amount of time to their spiritual growth. But, most people already have friends and don’t really have room for more, including a new small group full. I’ve experienced this in the churches I’ve serve, and I stopped doing it. There must be a better way.
3. For most people, Connection is not the need.
Few people are truly friendless and unconnected. If they are, I’m not sure small groups are the answer for them.
The average person has about 200 Facebook friends. They also have 6-20 face to face friends. If they live in a community like New York City, Baltimore, Chicago or Hermitage, PA, they’ve lived there most of their lives and the connections run deep. If their relationships were represented on a Lego brick, as Leith Anderson proposed years ago, all of the dots are taken. Their bricks are completely snapped up. There is no room for a small group. But, it’s not time to give up on groups.
The question is turning from HOW people connect to a group to WHY a group is important to them. Closely connected groups can offer support, care, and spiritual encouragement. They can also vandalize property, sell drugs, and participate in organized crime. There are many small groups by accident. Whether it starts with the kid next door, or a mom at the soccer field, or the guy whose lunch time is the same as ours in the break room, people have a lot of unintentional relationships. Those are really the best ones. Intentional relationships seem a little creepy at times.
So, if people are already connected, their living rooms are small, they are wise to the “H.O.S.T. strategy, and randomly assembled groups don’t last, how do we help people grow?
If we took “Small Group Host/Leader/Facilitator/Lay Pastor” out of our vocabulary, what would we do next to form groups?
By Keri Wyatt Kent
Life change happens in small groups. If we ask ourselves and our groups the right questions, we can create environments for transformation.
If you lead a small group, one of your goals might be to help those in your group grow spiritually–transformed spiritually, even. As leaders,
we want to take people on a journey of transformation. But in order to do that, we ourselves must be on the journey.
After all, the Bible tells us that transformation should happen as a result of our encounter with Christ. Like vinegar on baking soda in a kid’s science experiment, our bland lives should bubble up when the Spirit is poured out on us. But in order for that to happen, we need to create an environment where there is space for God’s Spirit to come in.
Two verses about transformation:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)
I spoke recently to a gathering of small group leaders at Christ Community Church in St. Charles. What an eager and receptive group of women, who are prevailing against the gates of hell by simply gathering women into groups and loving them toward a new life in Christ. I was impressed by their love and commitment. We talked about how our lives, our circumstances form us–they cause us to be formed. Sometimes our lives are shaped by love, other times by shame. Often, it’s a bit of both.Every situation, every challenge, all the voices that spoke into our lives, whether positive or negative, have formed our spirits, molded our souls.
As Dallas Willard wrote in Renovation of the Heart (a book which has, indeed, formed me in so many ways):
“Spiritual formation, without regard to any specifically religious context or tradition, is the process by which the human spirit or will is given a definite form or character. It is a process that happens to everyone. The most despicable as well as the most admirable of persons have had a spiritual formation. Terrorists as well as saints are the outcome of a spiritual formation. Their spirits or hearts have been formed. Period.”
In small groups, we lead people who have been formed, for better or worse. Their families (of origin and of right now) have formed them. Their traumas and their triumphs. Every incident and casual word influences, shapes.
What about when it comes to Christian spiritual formation. And how do we facilitate that in our groups? Willard goes on to write:
“We can say, in a preliminary manner, that spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers tot the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself…Christian spiritual formation is focused entirely on Jesus. Its goal is an obedience or conformity to Christ that arises out of an inner transformation accomplished through purposive interaction with the grace of God in Christ.”
Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart
As I led these small group leaders through a discussion of how to create environments for transformation, I reminded them first that growth–given the right conditions. Happens. For example, my children, when first born, were tiny. I fed them, kept them warm and fed. I loved on them, guided them. And they grew. I didn’t “mak
e” them grow, but I tried to provide an environment conducive to growth. As a result, my son who was 21 inches long when he was born is now 6’4″. I can’t take the credit–God did that. But I did provide the right conditions for growth to occur.
To talk about how we can help our small group members to grow, I asked leaders to grapple with four questions:
I believe it is when they fully embrace and own the fact that they are deeply loved. Being deeply loved changes everything.
1. What motivates people to be transformed?
The Holy Spirit is ultimately the one who changes us. So in many ways, the pressure’s off. But we need to create the right environment for growth and change.
Ironically, when people know they are loved just as they are, they are more motivated to change.
2. Do we expect transformation?
Are we clear that change is the goal? How do we communicate that? Is transformation “normal” in your group? How often do you cast a vision that reminds people God loves them as they are, but loves them too much to leave them there?
3. Do we model transformation?
How are you, as a leader, changing and growing? Do you share your victories and your setbacks with small group members, reminding them that your goal is to be formed into the image of Christ?
If you find yourself stalled out, look at the pace of your life. The biggest barrier to spiritual growth is hurry. Slowing down will allow you to model spiritual transformation.
4. Do we celebrate transformation?
One of our most important jobs as small group leaders is naming what we see in people’s lives: noticing and affirming both steps of growth and obvious struggles, and walking with them through both. Celebrate transformation by telling people what you see, where you notice God working in their lives.
One way we can celebrate transformation is to make a regular practice of Gratitude in our groups. And that gratitude not only celebrates transformation, it facilitates it. Grateful people experience God and they grow closer to Him. If you lead a small group, your mission is to help people to be attuned to the work of God in their own lives. What better way than to celebrate this regularly?
Our lives and souls are going to be formed, whether we are deliberate about it or not. Why not help your small group to be formed into the image of Christ, to find the freedom that the Spirit wants to give them?
PLEASE COMMENT: Are you a small group leader? Or in a small group? How has the group helped you to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”? What questions does this post raise for you?
For More Posts by Keri Wyatt Kent, please visit http://www.keriwyattkent.com
By Allen White
You know when I graduated from Bible college 25+ years ago, I never imagined I would ever work in video production. Now that I’ve been working with Brett Eastman over the past decade, I’ve actually interviewed hundreds of people on-camera for various projects. But, this interview was the most challenging by far.
by Allen White
Check out this clever video from The Potter’s House of North Dallas. Marc Jeffrey and Travis Simons not only deal with their church members’ fears about joining a group for the first time, but also address a few of their own in a humorous way. They cast vision for what their groups should be and give everyone some guidelines for going forward.
I caused a bit of a ruckus this week by proposing the idea of Disposable Small Groups. I used the analogy of disposable diapers versus cloth diapers. Here’s the bottom line (so to speak): diapers are useful for a brief period of time, but the goal is to potty train our children. If our small group ministries stay in diapers, we’re all in trouble.
While some small group strategies unfortunately produce groups that are short-lived or a system is not in place to sustain these groups beyond one series, the reality is this phenomena of “disposable groups” can be completely avoided, if the right things are in place.
1. Groups Require Coaching
I will admit coaching is a tough one. It’s hard to find the right people. Most small group pastors are unclear about the role of a coach. And, to top it all off, when you launch a church-wide campaign, whatever coaching system you did have in place is completely overwhelmed. I’ve been there. In fact, in our church in California we doubled our small groups in a day. Here’s how we figured out coaching.
Do the math: if you double your groups, then half of your groups are new and half of your groups have experience. We implemented the buddy system. We matched up an experienced leader with a new leader for the six week campaign. We didn’t call them “coach.” We called them “buddy” or “helper.” What we found was more of our new groups sustained and fewer of our groups were, uh, disposable.
At the end of the six weeks, we asked the experienced leaders if they enjoyed helping a new leader. If they did and they were effective, we invited them to coach a few new leaders during the next campaign while they continued to lead their existing groups.
Over time, this structure developed levels of Community Leaders, Coaches and Group Leaders similar to what Carl George advocates in Prepare Your Church for the Future. Just as Jethro instructed Moses in Exodus 18, we had leaders of tens, leaders of fifties, leaders of hundreds, and leaders of thousands. Or, in the case of that church, leader of thousand (singular).
A coaching structure may seem daunting, but without it, you are destined to produce disposable small groups.
2. Groups Need Training
People hate meetings. Meetings are inconvenient. People are busy. So, we really need to ask the question: What is training?
Training can be a blog post. In fact, that’s how this blog got started. I would answer one of my leader’s questions each week and send it to all of the rest.
Training can also appear on the curriculum DVD. By adding weekly training to the DVD, a leader has what they need when they need it as they go through the materials.
Training can be sent by video through an email. Any small group pastor/director with a smartphone, an iPad, or a laptop can record a 2 minute video (not longer) and send it out to his/her small group leaders each week. This is even better than training on the DVD, because you can answer timely questions as they are asked rather than anticipating what questions they might ask.
Yes, we still need initial training to get a group started. This could happen between services or even during a service, but we need to rethink small group training. If our leaders are learning through blogs, books, articles or video emails, then that IS training.
3. No EGR Left Behind
Every group sooner or later will encounter a difficult person. Personally, I am only comfortable in a group where I am the difficult person. No one is comfortable when a challenging person shows up to their group. But, there is help.
Identifying needs, even challenging ones, presents a great opportunity to offer help maybe in a way you weren’t able to before. Changes are the church staff may not have even known about the need. Don’t shy away from these opportunities to serve. While the group doesn’t need to turn into that individuals support group, you can direct them to support through actual support groups in the church or community as well as counseling resources. Of course, any person should be welcome to stay in your group, but they need to be reminded that the purpose of the group is for fellowship and Bible study not for group therapy.
4. There Are Always More Groups in the Sea, But Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Growing churches have great potential to recruit new hosts during every church-wide campaign. But, don’t turn this into a numbers game. Rather than merely celebrating in your group total, we need to celebrate whose groups are continuing and how these groups are growing deeper in relationship with each other and with God.
I hope you were disgusted with the idea of disposable small groups. While some groups will form for only one series, then disappear until the next church-wide campaign, this should be the exception and not the rule. By following these principles, disposable groups can be avoided.