Choosing the Right Day to Launch Groups This Fall

By Allen White

Photo by diddleman on 123rf.com

Photo by diddleman on 123rf.com

While most pastors would agree that Fall is the best season of the year to launch groups, there are many variables and opinions about the best time to launch in the Fall. The start date for an Easter launch, for instance, is pretty straight forward. You launch the Sunday after Easter. But, in the Fall, I’ve coached churches who have launched as early as the second week in August and as late as the second week in October (and about every other week in-between). Here are a few thoughts to factor in when you choose your launch date.

A Balancing Act

Two dates you need to consider are slightly different in every church. First, when is everyone back in church after Summer? For some churches this is when school starts. For other churches, this is after Labor Day. When are your people back in church. While most senior pastors will want to start a new series when everyone is back in church, the dilemma small group pastors face is when to recruit leaders. If you are depending on your senior pastor to fulfill the role of small group champion and invite people to lead groups, then you really want to wait until everybody is back in church before you start recruiting. You want as many leaders as you can get, right?

If the senior pastor can be persuaded to start the series three weeks after everyone is back from Summer, then you will have the best opportunity to recruit leaders. Then, of course, Dr. Tony Evans preached an amazing sermon on community a couple of years ago on Labor Day weekend and recruited 260 potential leaders. While we can make recommendations to senior pastors, it’s not our place to dictate to them. Follow your pastor’s lead after you’ve had a chance to build your case.

The Second Date to Consider

At the risk of sounding like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth, the second date to factor in is when your church members calendars start to fill up. Some of the churches I’ve worked with launched early because they knew once school started, the families’ calendars would fill up very quickly. If they couldn’t get a night of the week scheduled for a small group while other activities were being scheduled, there was a strong possibility there wouldn’t be space left for a small group. In these situations, the timing of recruiting the maximum number of new group leaders had to be weighed against the window of getting a group on a family’s calendar. After all, if you have a surplus of new group leaders, yet a deficit of new group members, we’ve defeated the purpose.

Start promoting now

Even if your launch is not until late September or early October, it’s never too early to promote the series. Now, by promote, I mean, sending out a Save the Date email or advertising the series in the service. Let your people know it’s coming. But, don’t recruit leaders or start connecting people into groups yet. It’s too early if your launch is in late September/early October. If your launch is in August, you’d better get a move on.

Allow three weeks to recruit leaders

While you want to promote the series well in advance, you only want to recruit new group leaders for three weeks. Let’s face it, if you recruited for three months, everyone would sign up in the last three weeks anyway. Don’t wear yourself and your team out with months of sign ups.

But, three weeks of recruiting group leaders is significant. The average person attends church 1.6 times per month. If you only recruit for one week, then you effectively miss more than half of your congregation. By recruiting for three weeks in a row, you have a much better chance of engaging more people to lead. But, that’s not the only reason to recruit for three weeks.

Many people can’t make a decision to lead a group when they are asked the first time. You’ve caught them flat footed. They need to think about it, talk to their spouse, or just warm up to the idea. Lorraine who cuts my hair put it this week, “The first time the pastor asked, I said ‘No way.’ Then, the next Sunday when he asked, I thought, ‘Maybe.” Then, when the pastor asked a third time, I turned to my husband and said, ‘That’s it, Rich. We’re doing it!'” And, that group is still going.

By recruiting for three weeks in a row, you are inviting more of your congregation, and you are giving people time to decide. More than three weeks is too much. Less than three weeks will handicap your reach. Three weeks is it.

Finish by Thanksgiving

Regardless of when you launch your groups this Fall, you want them to finish by Thanksgiving. Whether they are in a six-week study or a 12-week semester, you will do your groups a favor by ending the study before Thanksgiving. If your church is in Canada, I recommend launching groups after Canadian Thanksgiving, but finishing by the end of November.

People are so busy during the Christmas holidays, which really starts at Thanksgiving and continues through New Years Day. This is a great time to focus on group life rather than group meetings. Encourage your groups to serve together, celebrate together, or just take a break. Then, they will be ready for a new study in the new year.

An effective group launch is not complicated, but timing is everything. Every church will not do this exactly the same way. Consider these factors and choose the right launch day for your church.

Let me know what you decide or any questions you have in the comments.

If you’re still planning your Fall launch, learn from my 14 years of group launches with Leading an Exponential Group Launch. 

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Bad Times to Launch Small Groups

By Allen White

42505608 - launch word written on calendar using pen

After launching small groups with church-wide campaigns over the last 14 years, I’ve discovered there are some great times to launch groups, and there are definitely some seasons or situations to avoid. Considering the effort that’s put into a campaign whether you are purchasing someone else’s campaign or creating your own, you want to get the most bang for your buck. Why put all of that time, energy, and effort into something that will end up with a mediocre result? Here are some seasons and situations to avoid:

1. Summer.

My men’s group met 52 weeks of the year. We met at a restaurant for lunch on Wednesdays. Like most guys, we ate lunch 52 weeks of the year, so we did a Bible study too. I’m not sure 52 weeks per year is ideal, but it worked for us. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for everyone.

Because of the school calendar, which was based on an agrarian society, most schools are in session from Labor Day until Memorial Day as God intended. Some schools, however, start early in August. This pre-Labor Day start is against the natural order of things, in my humble opinion. But, most schools offer the three reasons teachers have entered the profession: June, July, and August.

Families go on vacation. The evenings are longer. Even committed group members tend to forget about small groups. If getting groups to continue meetings is a challenge during the Summer, then starting groups in the Summer is even more difficult.

Summer is the weakest season of the year to launch groups. The strongest seasons for group launches are (in order): Fall, New Years, and Spring (after Easter). Summer is in last place by a mile. By launching groups in the Summer, you are faced with two issue. First, you’re not getting your bang for the buck as mentioned earlier. Second, you are taking away from the impact of your Fall campaign. Not only is Fall the start of the school year, but the Summer break before Fall helps to make a Fall launch the strongest of the year.

Now, there will be groups like mine who want to continue through the Summer come hell or high water. Let them meet. But, don’t spend a leadership coin on a Summer launch. Save it until Fall.

2. Capital Campaign.

Growing churches build. Building churches requires a lot of money and usually some sort of capital campaign. We understand this.

People who are in groups tend to give more than people who are not in groups. According to Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger in Transformational Groups, their research has shown that people not in groups give 6.07 percent of their income, while those who attended a group 4 or more times a month gave 10.34 percent (p 45). If a family earned $35,000 per year, this means their annual giving would increase by $1494.50 per year if they joined a small group.

If the church needs money, and people in groups tend to give more money, then why not get everybody into groups so they’ll give to more the capital campaign. That equation works for the short-term, but not the long term.

Once an association is made between small groups and capital campaigns, then the next time the call is made for people to join small groups, most people will think, “I wonder how much money they need to raise this time.” I’m not saying capital campaigns are wrong. They’re not. They are necessary. But, capital campaigns and small group campaigns simply do not go together.

To avoid a bad associate, get ahead of the capital campaigns. Form groups in the New Year, then start the capital campaign in the Fall. Groups can certainly study something about the church’s vision related to the capital campaign, and they’ve started well enough in advance that the association shouldn’t be made.

3. During a Church Crisis.

When a church is facing a major crisis, like the pastor’s forced resignation, a devastating financial blow, or a scandal of any kind, this is not the time to start small groups. I’m not being glib. My first pastor had to resign after I’d only been on staff for 18 months. While groups will certainly bond people together, disgruntled individuals can become platoons who will march right out of your church together. Wait until the dust settles, then launch groups.

4. Simultaneously with Another Major Initiative.

My friend, Gilbert Thurston says, “If you are casting vision for two things at the same time, you are creating Di-vision or division.” No pastor wants to promote division. The problem is if the best time to launch small groups is in the Fall and the New Year, well, it’s also the best time to launch everything else. Sigh.

To avoid creating di-vision in your church, stagger your announcements. If you’re church has on-going or semester-based groups and ministries like Celebrate Recovery, Financial Peace University, DivorceCare, GriefShare, or others, then start those before you make the call for groups. While it’s nice to have everyone in the church studying the same thing, it’s not necessary for an effective group launch. Once the support groups have started, then gear up for your big Fall or New Year’s launch.

5. If the Majority of Your Adults are in Sunday School.

Some churches don’t need small groups. Maybe they’d like to have groups, but for those churches who still run a thriving adult Sunday school, groups really aren’t necessary. Now, I’m talking about churches with 90 percent of their adults in Sunday school today. This is different from churches with declining Sunday schools who think that promoting Sunday school more will boost attendance. If that’s you, then you need to start groups. Your Sunday school ain’t coming back. But, there are those churches with well established, thriving Sunday schools. My word to you — Keep Sunday School working. If it begins to slip, then think groups.

You really have to ask yourself: Are we in the meeting business or are we in the discipleship business? You can make disciples in Sunday school. You can make disciples in groups. The goal is not groups. The goal is developing leaders and making disciples.

6. Christmas.

For many of the same reasons as Summer, the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day become overloaded with activities for most people in your church. Between school programs, Christmas parties, special Christmas services, shopping, traveling, and whatever else they’ve piled on themselves, the Christmas season is a very difficult time to start groups or for groups to even meet regularly. Groups can have fun together or serve together, but weekly meetings are probably out.

7. Immediately after New Year’s Day.

Most senior pastors want to kick off the new year with a “State of the Church” type of message or “Vision Sunday,” then they want to get right into their series the second Sunday in January. If this is when the church chooses to launch groups, there’s a big problem — there is no time to recruit leaders or form groups. If you think, “We will just recruit leaders in December for the January launch,” then go back and read #6. I’ve tried this. I ended up standing in the briefing room, listening to crickets, and questioning the call of God on my life. You can’t recruit nobody for nuthin’ in December. Save yourself some headaches.

The “New Year’s” launch will go much better if there is time in January to recruit leaders and form groups before the series starts in late January. Better yet, use the whole month of January to recruit and form groups, then run your series between the Christian holidays of Super Bowl Sunday and Easter.

Every church is different. For instance, Canadian churches will want to start their Fall series after Canadian Thanksgiving. If you live in Seattle and the mountain is still out in September, you might want to wait until October to start your series. If your people’s calendars fill up very quickly at the start of the school year, then you’d better launch groups when school starts, so folks still have an evening available.

Use these seven suggestions to guide you. I want you to succeed with your next group launch, but in the end, you need to do what works best in your neck of the woods.

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When Your Pastor Gets Fired

By Allen White Perry Noble and Allen crop

My pastor, Perry Noble, got fired. You can find the details at newspring.cc. But, this isn’t the first time a pastor of mine got fired.

The first pastor I worked for was fired at the first church I served after I’d only been there a year and a half. I was 27 years old. I won’t give all the details of what happened because the pastor and his family are still around. It was devastating to me personally. It was especially devastating to our congregation. It was devastating to our pastor and his family.

Everyone had to grieve the loss. Some of that grief came out as anger. Some came out of sadness. Some came out as distrust. For everybody it was a little different. And people went from one stage to the next in grieving our loss.

I’ve been in the church all of my life. When I was young, I thought pastors were cut from a different cloth. Somehow God’s calling and anointing on their lives made them invincible or something more than human. My years in Bible college cured that.

For a few years in a row in college, every guest speaker we had for any kind of spiritual emphasis ended up having an affair and being fired by his church. Finally after about three years of this, we had this goofy red-headed preacher speak for our spiritual emphasis. We knew we were safe with him.

My Bible college years concluded with the whole disaster of Jim and Tammy Bakker, which was followed by the next disaster with Jimmy Swaggart. I found myself filled with a mix of disgust and sadness. People who had been responsible for so much…People who had a vast spiritual influence over so many other people…They lived their lives in irresponsible ways. They took their calling for granted. They assumed that they were God’s special boys and somehow deserved special treatment. They got mixed up.

God doesn’t call the gifted. God gifts the called. Sometimes people confuse God’s gifts as their own personal gifts. They become deceived by the fact that God will continue to use them even though they are allowing sin to continue to manifest in their lives. The Bible gives us a long list of broken people who are mightily used by God. I always wondered why God couldn’t find better people. As I’ve grown older I’ve discovered that God was using regular people, and there weren’t better ones.

So after witnessing years of people with influential ministries being fired, I became somewhat numb to all of this. But what I hadn’t experienced was facing this in my own church. I hadn’t experienced watching two-thirds of our congregation leave and all of the staff as well. I hadn’t experienced people apologize as they left the church because their lives were stressful enough, and they just couldn’t add church stress on top of all of that. I hadn’t experienced being a 27-year-old pastor with 85 people left not knowing what the future would hold. Fortunately for us that wasn’t the end of the story.

What’s interesting is we lost everybody who was in favor of the pastor, and we lost everybody who was against the pastor. The group we had left were the ones that were in favor of the church. Now some of the old timers will try to give me credit for holding the church together. The truth is God was the one holding the church together. I was just trying to hold myself together.

At one point I even sent out a few resumes to find a different job. In the type of church I’d grown up in, the new pastor always seem to want to select their own staff and would dismiss the old staff in sort of a Machiavellian fashion. I thought before the new guy shows up I better find a job and have some place to land. As I prayed about where to go next, God asked me “Who told you to send out resumes?” I knew I hadn’t been released. So I picked up the phone and called the churches that I had sent resumes to and ask them politely not to consider me for their positions. God meant for me to stay where I was.

But staying was a lot to deal with. Every person I ran into, whether they stayed with the church or had left, were still dealing with their grief from the experience. I got to the point that for a few weeks I would show up at the office around the crack of noon and leave by 3 p.m. because that’s about all I could take. I couldn’t even go to the post office or the supermarket without being cornered by someone who was either sad or angry or accusatory. I learned to listen a lot and not talk very much. I had to put my own grief aside in a way so that I could help others process theirs. I spent a lot of late nights looking up at the ceiling asking God if this was part of His Plan or somehow there’d been a mistake. It was part of His Plan

Our people more motivated. They wanted to change. They wanted anything other than what they already had. We changed the name of the church with no problem. We changed the ministry style of the church with no problem. We changed the music in the church with no problem.

When I left our church after 15 years, we had grown from 85 people to about 1,500. Our church was serving in the community in various ways. The church was steadily growing. There were more people in small groups then we had attending on the weekend service. I’m glad I stayed.

Today, opens a whole new chapter for NewSpring Church. Amid much sadness, confusion, and speculation, there is hope. “We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5, NASB).

We love you Perry Noble. We are praying for you.

 

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Invest in Yourself This Summer

By Allen White

Leading an Exponential Group Launch

After spending the year pouring into others, often we get to Summer and dream of a tropical paradise. For more of us, that tropical paradise amounts to a week in Myrtle Beach. (There are better places to vacation in South Carolina, but as a resident for nine years now, I’m not allowed to tell you, especially if you’re from Ohio.)

Let’s face it for those of us overseeing discipleship and small group ministries in a church, Summer is really sort of an annual sabbatical for us in a way. After that week of vacation, what do we do? Sure we pitch in at VBS or youth camp. We might lead a mission trip or speak on a weekend or two. But, often we have more discretionary time in the Summer than in most other times of the year. What you invest in yourself now could make a huge difference this Fall.

Now that you have six weeks of your “sabbatical” remaining, here are a few thought about making your time productive and your Fall awesome.

Read.

I learned a long time ago that leaders are readers. Here’s the great news: you have time to read. Whether you prefer printed books, ebooks, or audio books, there is time to read. If you can’t find time to sit down and read for 20 minutes during the day, then download an audio book to listen when you travel to and from the office. My Summer commute is all of 12 minutes, but I can get 24 minutes of listening time in every day, which is two hours per week. When we multiply that by 6 weeks, we just found 12 hours of reading time this Summer.

Most of us don’t have hours to read during the day, but if we put in another 20 minutes, we could probably cover at least a chapter a day. Our lives are too short to make all of the mistakes and learn all of the hard lessons ourselves. So, cheat. Learn from other people mistakes and hard lessons. Here are a few books I’ve either just read or am reading this Summer.

Contagious by Jonah Berger. A professor at the Wharton School of Business discovers the best approaches and appeals to marketing. With great stories like the $100 Philly Cheese Steak and a Youtube sensation called “Will It Blend?” the author will take you through the six key areas of effective promotion. As you think about promoting your small groups this Fall, you will uncover some interesting thoughts from Berger about what to present and how to make it work.

Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley. This is Andy Stanley’s “Gentlemen, this is a football” speech. Starting with the incredible stories of the inauspicious beginnings of North Point Community Church and challenging the church to be the church, Stanley delivers a solid whack on the side of the head.

Small Groups for the Rest of Us by Chris Surratt. My friend, Chris, released this book last year. He offers a unique approach to groups in an approachable and transferable way. So many small group models just don’t work other places. Chris’ thoughts will work in churches large and small.

Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy. As pastors we are focused on fulfilling God’s plan for our lives. But, often we spend our days spinning our wheels and crying out to God for direction. While we should never be presumptuous about our own plans, the reality is if we don’t have a plan, then not very much gets accomplished. Living Forward helps you plan ahead for every aspect of your life. It’s not about getting rich quick or reaching the pinnacle of success as much as it’s about planning to give every area of your life what it needs when it needs it. How do you know how to do that? You have a plan.

Take an Online Course.

My book won’t be out until January 2017, so I can’t recommend it yet. But, if you’d like to see the first chapter, you can download it here: allenwhite.org/ebook. What I can offer you is my six session online course called Leading an Exponential to Group Launch. In this course you will learn proven strategies of set goals and make a plan, recruit leaders, develop a coaching structure, form groups, and get your groups to continue. This is a downloadable resource which includes six 45-60 minute talks along with the slide deck and some great downloadable templates, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If you would like to invest in a a live, in-person coaching relationship, I am starting a new six month coaching group this month. For more details, contact info@allenwhite.org
Take some time for yourself. Fall will be here before you know it. If you don’t have time to invest in yourself this Summer, well, then you have some things to learn.
What do you plan to differently this Fall than before? Leave your response below.
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Double Your Groups This Fall

By Allen White 

If your church is like most churches, you’ve tried everything you know to do to start groups and you have about 30 percent (or maybe 50 percent) of your adults in groups. You’ve often wondered…

If only my groups would develop an apprentice leader…

If only my Senior Pastor would get serious about promoting groups…

If only my groups would become unselfish and multiply/divide/give birth…

If only we could close the backdoor to our church…

If only we had more groups leaders to start groups…

You’ve read books. You’ve attended conferences. You’ve learned from the best and the brightest, but the lingering question is WHY DID IT WORK FOR THEM BUT IT’S NOT WORKING FOR ME? You are one well-educated and overly-frustrated person.

How do I know?

This is exactly what I was experiencing 12 years ago, then my groups DOUBLED in one day.

You can avoid the frustration. You can double your groups this Fall with all of the leaders you need and with all of the support your leaders need. What I would like to share with you are the six essential strategies I have learned over the last 25 years of ministry. My ceiling can become your floor!

Here’s the best part: You can customize the strategies to work in your church. You may decide to require more or less of leaders than others. That’s okay. We can still double your groups. Your church might create your own curriculum, or you might not. That’s okay. We can still double your groups. You may have tried large scale group launches before with mixed results. That’s okay. We can still double your groups.

Beginning Wednesday, July 13 at 1:30pm Eastern/10:30am Pacific, we will walk together on a six week journey to lay the groundwork for you to DOUBLE YOUR GROUPS THIS FALL.

Week 1: Setting God-Sized Goals and Making a Plan to Double Your Groups.

Week 2: Recruiting Your Launch Team and Finding the Help You Need to Double Your Groups.

Week 3: Recruiting the Group Leaders You Need to Double Your Groups.

Week 4: Connecting Your People into Groups.

Week 5: Coaching Your New Group Leaders.

Week 6: Training Your New Group Leaders.

Each week will consist of a 60 minute group coaching session with churches from across the country. You will receive both training and interaction in each session as well as practical tools to help you double your groups. From timelines to templates, you will have what you need to lay the groundwork for doubling your groups.

To hear more, join one of three Live Webinars This Week: allenwhite.org/webinars

If you’re ready to jump in to the Course: allenwhite.org/double

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Avoiding Ground Hog Day This Fall

By Allen White

Photo by Nicolas Fernandez

Photo by Nicolas Fernandez

Most of us know the movie starring Bill Murray as a weatherman who is sent to cover the story of a “weather forecasting rat.” Obviously, this is not his favorite assignment. This time something is different. Every day when he wakes up, it’s once again Ground Hog Day. He’s basically having the worse day of his life over and over and over again. Until he finally gets it right.

Some churches had stellar Fall launches last year, then they failed to retain as many groups as they would have liked. The plan for this Fall is another big launch without a next step. The result will be Ground Hog Day.

Other churches are carefully handpicking leaders hoping to have an incremental increase in groups this Fall. I followed this strategy for seven years and got stuck with only 30 percent of our people in groups. After six Ground Hog Days in a row, I knew something had to change.

How will your Fall launch this year be different from your Fall launch last year? Now, you could do the exact same thing you did last year only louder, more frequent, and with great intensity, and you will probably gain a few more. But, the result will be far from exponential, and it will feel like Ground Hog Day all over again. Consider these six things as you prepare for your Fall launch:

1. What topic will attract more?

In working with over 1,500 churches over the last 11 years, some topics have been real winners in connecting not only congregations, but communities into groups. Other topics, well, not so much. Let’s start with the narrow topics.

If you’re church is going with a rather mature topic like fasting, giving, evangelism, or anything by Francis Chan, you will have a limited amount of new groups starting. After all, when most of us read Francis Chan, we wonder if we’re even still Christians. There is a place for more mature topics, topics with lots of homework, and anything to do with money, but it’s not in a Fall campaign where you have the biggest possibility of connecting people into groups.

Think about felt needs. What needs do your people and your community have? How could a Fall campaign help? Topics like parenting, relationships, stress, fears, hope, peace, and similar could certainly scratch where folks itch. This does not mean you need to cater to peoples’ needs in every curriculum you promote, but if you want to draw them in for a big Fall launch, that is certainly the direction to head. In fact, you might even think about creating your own curriculum.

2. What strategy will connect more?

What has worked in the past will not continue into the future. If your people are filling out sign up cards or web forms, get out of that business ASAP. This is the most time consuming, ineffective method of forming groups known to man. You do all the work of getting them into a group only to discover that either the leader never follows up with the person, the person never shows up, or the person doesn’t stick with a group where they have nothing in common with anybody else. In fact, this practice makes me want to change the analogy from Ground Hog Day to the definition of insanity!

Now that you’re giving up your sign up cards, how do you connect people into groups. Start with the group leaders. Who do they know that would enjoy the study? Personal invitation will go a long way to form healthier, long-lasting groups. If you have a lot of new people in your church or moving into your area, then create an environment where new people can meet group leaders face to face, then sign up for a specific group. Some people want to lead a group, but don’t want strangers coming to their house. Why not have them start a group by just inviting their friends? In fact, could your people “do the study with their friends” and not even mention “groups”?

3. What new method will recruit more leaders?

Are you still handpicking leaders? How stressed are you already about Fall? Are your leaders supposed to be training an apprentice? How well is that working? Are you still recruiting “hosts”? If you’ve been recruiting hosts for the last 14 years, your people are wise to you. They know “hosts” means leader.

Now, don’t get me wrong. These have all been very effective methods of recruiting and developing leaders. But, if you are continuing to recruit dwindling amounts of leaders with these same strategies, then you must face the fact that your people have effectively said “No” to these recruiting methods. What could you offer this Fall that they might say “Yes” to?

4. Who will coach your new leaders?

Just reading that question evokes a lot of guilt for most small group coaches. I know your coaching structure is not what you imagined or is non-existent. Some of you have even deceived yourselves into thinking that staff can handle the needs of group leaders. You’re sending out emails and inviting people to meetings. How are those meetings working out?

The most important person in the life of a group leader is his or her coach. I was the sole coach for all of my leaders for a long time. Technically, it worked. Practically, it didn’t. They didn’t receive the care and support they needed. In fact, one year all of them quit. That was not a Ground Hog Day I ever wanted to repeat, so we put coaching in place before we recruited another group leader.

The main focus of any small group pastor should be on two things: coaching and curriculum. Coaches are the only way to know what’s in the head and heart of a group leader. And, of course, coaches must be accountable to you or your small group team depending on the size of your church.

5. What training tool will be more effective?

Seminary taught me I needed to train leaders in meetings. I offered meetings. Some were better attended than others. Once I stood in an empty room at about 15 minutes after the start time questioning the call of God on my life because no one had showed up for my training. Then, I had a big realization: people hate meetings.

Heading into this Fall (and attempting to avoid another Ground Hog Day), are you in the training business or the meeting business? They are not the same thing. If your training is based on centralized meetings, then you are missing a good portion of your leaders. How else can you train? I started this blog by answering my group leaders questions. Some small group pastors create a 2 minute video they email to their leaders every week. What could training look like in your church?

A while back I was talking to a pastor who had a background in corporate training. He told me, “This might sound strange considering my background, but I’ve come to realize the best training comes from the person who is proximate to the group leader when they are facing a problem.” Now, we’re back to coaching.

6. How will more groups continue into the New Year?

Creating a lot of excitement and starting a bunch of groups for a six week series is relatively easy. The test comes at the end of the six weeks. For some reason when people are invited into a six week study, they get the impression that at the end of the six weeks their group is done. I don’t know where they would get such a crazy idea.

If we don’t challenge these groups to continue, then not only will we experience Ground Hog Day every Fall, we will have Ground Hog Day at the start of every semester and every group launch. In North America, people like to stay together. This is why the apprentice model is a struggle. This is also why semester-based groups which practice what I call “fruit basket upset” at the end of the semester create a lot more work and dissatisfaction among group members.

If you give groups an opportunity to continue in the middle of your Fall series, chances are they will take you up on it. If you execute all six points of this post well, you could have 80 percent or more of your groups continue.

Ground Hog Day isn’t just for February.

What are you willing to change this Fall that will increase your result and effectiveness in forming and retaining groups? What risk are you willing to take? Would you lower the requirements for group leaders temporarily? Would you try a new strategy to form groups? Could you try your hand at developing a coaching structure and reworking your training?

This Fall could be unlike any Fall launch you’ve lead before. Isn’t it time to get out of the cycle of Ground Hog Day. If you would like to learn more, please join me for an upcoming webinar: allenwhite.org/webinars

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When Big Goes Small: How Large Churches Are Learning From Those With Less

I was recently interviewed by Aaron Earls on the trend toward launching multisite campuses through microsites. As I have blogged previously, microsites start in homes for the purpose of gathering people for a weekend service. Microsites are not a small groups, but can certainly create small groups very readily. Below is the article that appeared in Lifeway’s Facts and Trends magazine.

By Aaron Earls big-goes-small

The popular image of an American megachurch as a sprawling campus surrounding a massive worship center drawing thousands of attendees every Sunday needs some updating.

Even as most continue to draw in more worshipers, the typical megachurch sanctuary is shrinking. And some of the largest churches from California to South Carolina are planting their new campuses in the smallest of sites—homes. This comes as church leaders realize sustained growth of their congregation and spiritual growth of their people will come from going small.

Multisite and Microsites

In the last five years, the typical megachurch’s main sanctuary decreased in size from 1,500 seats to a median of 1,200, according to the 2015 Megachurch Report from Leadership Network and Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

The move to smaller sanctuaries is an outgrowth of the burgeoning multisite church movement. Instead of building a large church and asking people to come to one place, megachurches are building smaller spaces in more places.

Since 2000, churches with multiple campuses have grown steadily from 23 percent to more than 60 percent of all megachurches, according to the 2015 Megachurch Report. “Megachurches have shifted their philosophy from building bigger and bigger,” says Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, “to spreading further and further.”

In the midst of this, a new trend is emerging. Larger churches are now launching microsite campuses. “Microsite is a much smaller version of a multisite campus that meets in a home or another small space,” says Allen White, a pastor and church consultant in South Carolina. The Rock Church in San Diego, California, and NewSpring Church in South Carolina are two megachurches that have added microsites to their multisite approach, according to White.

Instead of securing a larger temporary location such as a school or movie theater, for a microsite, a church identifies an area of the city or community it wants to reach and often begins meeting in the home of a member there. “A microsite can pop up as quickly as a sandwich shop,” says White. “All that’s needed are local leaders, resources to train them, and video for the services.”

White says these microsites allow larger churches to experiment. “If it blows up, that’s how experiments go,” he says.

Megachurches may need that infusion of experimentation. A study shows that megachurches—once hailed as a new way to experience church—may be getting stuck in their ways.

In 2010, more than half (54 percent) of megachurches strongly agreed they were willing to change to meet new realities. In 2015, according to the Megachurch Report, that number plummeted to 37 percent.

As churches grow larger and older, they can lose flexibility. Adding microsites or other innovations allows churches to regain some of what was lost. Those microsites are one of the ways in which larger churches are trying to recapture the essence of being small.

Why Megachurches Go Small

Larger churches often recognize what small churches might miss—there are advantages to being little. Through small groups, multisite campuses, and now microsites, those megachurches are attempting to continue their growth while retaining small-church benefits.

“Churches are taking advantage of Dunbar’s number,” says Bob Whitesel, a professor at Indiana Wesleyan University and church growth expert. Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, found humans can comfortably maintain only around 150 stable relationships. Beyond that, says Whitesel, “relationships don’t seem to have much depth.”

This is why he believes many churches stall around this plateau. “Once it gets bigger than that, people stop inviting others because they no longer know everyone else at church,” he says.

It’s incumbent on large church leaders to capitalize on smaller groups that organically emerge in the church. Whitesel calls these “sub-congregations,” and they mirror other numbers Dunbar found in his research. Groups of 50 can unite around a task, such as the music ministry or preschool volunteers. Small group gatherings of 15 have the feel of an extended family, and groups of five are intimate connections.

These numbers have been seen not only in sociological research but also in church history, Whitesel says. “In the Wesleyan revivals, every leader had to be involved in what they called ‘Band Meetings’ of five individuals. Larger groups of 15 were called ‘Class Meetings.’”

With this sociological and historical support, church consulting experts identify at least four areas that can be more easily developed in smaller churches.

Accountability — With larger churches, anonymity is easier. Attendees can sneak in late, sit in the back of an enormous sanctuary, and leave without interacting with anyone. But this leaves individuals prone to slipping away from the church as quickly as they slipped in.

Whitesel says smaller numbers allow people to “connect with a group that brings accountability and interdependency.” If the church goes through changes, being connected to a smaller group—be it a campus or a small group—serves as glue to hold people in place.

Community — The main benefit larger churches can gain from going small, according to Allen White, is connection and community. “Everyone desires the experience of being known and accepted,” he says.

Microsite campuses allow much larger churches to “meld together the feel of a small group with the production of a large church,” White says.

Leadership growth — As with accountability, attendees at a megachurch may be tempted to avoid leadership. They may feel intimidated by the size of the church or a lack of education and training. Going small forces new people into leadership roles.

“Once a church is able to train and deploy staff or volunteers to lead a microsite campus, then the number of campuses is limited only to available space and willing leaders,” says White. The opportunities for involvement and leadership are endless, and in smaller settings many may feel more comfortable taking the reins of a ministry.

Reproducibility — Thousand-seat arenas aren’t on every corner to start a new megachurch, but that’s not a problem for microsites or small churches. The ease at which microsites can begin makes it possible for them to go viral, according to White.

This type of planting churches and starting new sites is not exclusive to megachurches. LifeWay Research’s analysis of more than 800 church plants found more than 1 in 5 were launched from a church with an average attendance below 100. The clear majority (60 percent) were started by churches of fewer than 500.

As churches quickly reproduce, mistakes will be made, and they’ll learn what not to do. But White says this means the church is trying to fulfill her mission. “The church as a whole has spent too many years perfecting ministry, but not producing disciples,” he says.

Going small allows larger churches to produce faithful disciples in new contexts outside the gigantic arena.


AARON EARLS (Aaron.Earls@LifeWay.com) is online editor of FactsAndTrends.net.

UPDATE: Since the writing of this article, NewSpring Church has moved all of their microsite campuses to larger portable locations. They outgrew all of the houses!

DISCLAIMER: Before you launch microsites in your church, check with local zoning regulations as well as HOA policies and fire regulations. If microsites become too large, they can cause parking problems as well as other potential headaches for neighbors. It might be wise to rotate microsites between different homes to alleviate any neighborhood issues.

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Are You Personally Prepared for Your Groups to Multiply?

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By Allen White

I have to admit that I was and I wasn’t prepared for my groups to multiply. Of course, when my pastor stood up that Sunday back in 2004 and so many responded that we doubled our groups in a day, I was ecstatic. I was also a little afraid. I didn’t have the coaching structure to support such rapid growth. My training was not quite where it should have been. I wasn’t going to turn anybody down, but now I had to move fast.

Over the years I had picked up enough from John Maxwell, Peter Drucker, and others to know how to lead. In fact, I lead quite a few things at our church including everything involving adults and occasionally something random like a copier salesman. Now, I needed to put up or shut up. I could no longer hide behind the excuse that I had so much on my plate that I really couldn’t do more with groups. My pastor’s invitation blew that one out of the water.

Are you prepared to leave your comfort zone?

For most of us who’ve been in ministry for any length of time, we’ve kind of got it down to a system. Now, if you’re still running around like a chicken with its head cut off, you’re already in trouble, and you’re probably focusing on the wrong things like group member sign up cards. Get out of that business ASAP.

When I only had 30 small groups life was pretty much on cruise control. Now, I was also leading a ministry discovery process based on Network by Bruce Bugbee. (If you don’t have one, Bruce is about to release a 25th anniversary update). There was a little counseling, a Wednesday evening Bible study to teach, adult electives on Sunday morning, various other groups and studies, a discipleship pathway to manage, a new believers’ class, and about three hours a day just to read and study. Life was good. Ok, not completely.

Thirty small group leaders were way too many for me to manage alone, but I was in complete control, and that suited me just fine. Looking back, not only was I handicapping my leadership by not developing a coaching structure earlier on, I certainly was not helping or caring for the leaders to the degree they deserved.

Then, I hit a crisis. Not a bad crisis, it was a good crisis. Thirty groups became 60 groups, then grew to 103 groups in a congregation of 800 adults. I was completely unprepared.

If your groups doubled this Fall, who would you need to coach new leaders?

I wasn’t adequately coaching 30 groups, now I had twice the problem, and all of the guilt of not building a coaching structure. Now, I could have gone the easy way by just giving the new leaders a phone number to call if they got into trouble. But, the issue with a small group hotline is the new leaders are really not served, and you enter into the scenario of what I call “Disposable Small Groups.”

Then, in a stroke of insight and desperation, it dawned on me that I had 30 leaders with experience and 30 leaders without experience. I cashed in 12 years of leadership “credit” by sending a letter to my experienced leaders assigning a new leader to them. The instructions were “unless you absolutely can’t do this, I am counting on you.” And, they did it, well, except for one.

Close your eyes and imagine both a crowning achievement and an absolute nightmare — your groups just doubled. But, you have three months, so how would you prepare? Make a list of experienced leaders and mature believers who you could invite to coach all of these new leaders. You already need them, so you might as well get started.

How much training would the new leaders need and when?

Hopefully you’ve decided to delay some of the usual requirements for small group leaders this Fall. Otherwise, you should have started recruiting group leaders last Fall. Inviting people to open their homes and invite their friends for a six week commitment is a pretty low stakes undertaking for everyone involved provided you don’t advertise the groups.

The essentials of training new leaders focuses on how to gather their groups, how to lead their first meeting, and how to involve others in leading the group. That may not sound like much, but remember, you’ve already given them a coach. The experienced leader can easily fill in the gaps for the new leaders. If there happens to be an issue or question that is too much for the experienced leader, then you should get involved.

With the encouragement of the coach, a weekly two minute training video from the small group pastor should round out the training for the first six weeks of leading. By pushing the video training out in an email, the new leaders will be prompted to watch it when it arrives in their inbox. You could add a “free prize” in the video to make sure they watch it. Jim Herndon, small group pastors, Second Baytown in Texas does a giveaway in each of his videos. He used to put it at the end, then his leaders would skip to the end to find out about the prize. Naughty leaders. Now, Jim puts the “free prize” at a different spot in each video. Whoever finds it first and contacts Jim gets a gift card or some other kind of goodie. That may seem simple, but I think it’s simply brilliant! Have you tried getting your leaders to a meeting lately. Skip the meetings. Send video training.

If your pastor decided to create curriculum this Summer, are you ready?

It’s not too late to create your own curriculum for this Fall. In fact, I’m shooting two projects with a church next week. Of course, my advantage is I have a professional team. But, once upon a time, I coached a church of 50 people to create their own curriculum. Not only did they do a beautiful job, then connected 100 people into groups!

I think there’s a good, better, best of curriculum development.

The Good option is editing existing sermon video into a small group series like Andy Stanley’s series. Then, you just write the questions. Now, I say this is the “Good” option, but I really see this as the “better than nothing” option. Sorry, Andy.

The Better option is to shoot a five minute video with you senior pastor between the services on Sunday morning, then sending it out to your groups with a downloadable discussion guide. The content is still fresh in your pastor’s mind. You don’t have to create six talks in advance of the series. Just pray that no one gets sick.

The Best option is to shoot all six teaching segments in advance. You might even include a session host or some testimonies. If you start now, you could have professional looking curriculum (study guide and DVD) for this Fall. While this is a lot of work, the great thing about it is, the materials are a create recruiting tool. When your people see the effort you’ve put into the curriculum, they will want to join in!

If you need help with video curriculum, I can coach your team or send you a video production crew, or create your whole study from start to finish (or you could create your own video for one of my studies). For more info: info@allenwhite.org

What would need to change in your own leadership style?

I hate to admit it, but I really like being in charge of everything and having everyone report to me. No surprises. I had my pulse on my groups. I knew what was going on. Okay, I wish it had worked that well, but I thought it did. Like I said earlier, my need for control handicapped my small groups.

One week in our coaches meeting, Carlos spoke up and talked about how excited Rick was to lead a group. Rick told him it was the best thing he had ever done. I looked at Carlos and asked, “Who’s Rick?” That was a big day for me. I couldn’t have picked Rick out of a line up. But, I knew and trusted Carlos, and Carlos was getting to know Rick, so that need to be good enough.

What changes in your attitudes and actions reflected in your own leadership style might have to change to allow the coming growth of your small group ministry. What I learned about myself was that my attitude and actions were the main limiting factor in the lack of growth in our groups. When I changed my own thinking, which in turn changed my actions, then we experienced exponential growth in our groups.

Not too long ago I was working with a very capable small group pastor. We had successfully quadrupled the groups in his church. While I was celebrating, he was hyperventilating. In fact, at one point he said, “I can’t wait until this gets back to normal.”

While we had a great strategy in place to help groups continue, it wasn’t executed well. In fact, the small group pastor went on vacation during a crucial week of the plan. Pretty soon the groups dwindled down to something that was still double of normal, but way off from what it should have been. He wasn’t ready. He hadn’t mentally prepared for what was coming. Things leveled out at a comfortable place for him, but at what price?

Parting Thoughts

John Maxwell talks about The Law of the Lid. This takes place when a leader’s ability becomes the limiting factor in the growth of the organization. There are some options. Leaders can always grow their leadership through books, podcasts, seminars, and coaching. That’s what helped to grow my leadership. But, the other options are not so good. Either your ministry will stagnate under your current level of leadership, or your ministry will outgrow you. If you’re job outgrows you, then you’ll be looking for another job. Wouldn’t you rather grow your leadership?

By starting now to prepare for Fall, you can have a huge jump on what’s ahead. Start your coaching structure. Plan out your training. Then, when your groups begin to dramatically increase, you will be ready. If you need help, I can get you ready. Just ask: info@allenwhite.org.

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7 Insights for Successful Small Group Launches

By Allen White 7 Insights Ad

I’ve seen small group launches go really well. And, I’ve had churches come to me after the launch or a series of launches and ask for help. Not so secretly, I really wish I had the opportunity to talk to them first. Any church only has so many opportunities to successfully launch groups and connect the majority of their members. Failure to launch in these circumstances is fatal for future launch attempts.

As I’ve worked with churches, large and small, across North America, I have discovered seven things that help churches successfully launch groups. By having these things in place, you have a better chance of recruiting the leaders and coaches you need, forming groups that will last, and make your senior pastor a raving fan of groups.

Insight #1: Choose the Right Topic.

The right or wrong topic will make or break your launch. Think about who you are trying to connect: church members or folks in the community. If you chose a mature topic like tithing or fasting, more than likely you’ll have a tough road getting your members to participate let alone anyone from outside of your church. Think about topics that would be a felt need for your people and your community.

I’ve coached churches who have done a two step strategy with this. The first campaign was used to connect and cast vision to the church body. The second campaign was designed for the church to reach the community. For instance, Capital Area Christian Church in the Harrisburg, PA area launched a New Year’s series in 2015 called Manifesto. This series laid out the vision and mission of the church to their people. Then, after Easter 2015, the launched a second series called Monsters Under the Bed, which addresses the topic of fear — now that’s a significant felt need. In the second series, they connect more in their congregation, but also quite a few in their community.

Insight #2: Lower the Bar on Leadership.

That doesn’t mean throwing people who are completely unprepared with no coach into the deep end. When I say, “lower the bar” I mean temporarily setting aside your requirements for short term series groups. These groups aren’t advertised. You don’t send people to these groups. You invite people who are open to doing a study with their friends give small groups a try. Maybe for the first time.

If they have a good experience leading a group, then invite them to do more. Eventually, you will offer them a leadership track to make them official leaders. If things didn’t go so well for them, then thank them for giving it a try and encourage them to try another ministry.

As Neil Cole says, “We need to lower the bar on what it means to be a leader and raise the bar on what it means to be a disciple.” Not everyone has a leadership gift, but we are all called to “go and make disciples.” No one is exempt from the Great Commission. By giving your people an easy to use tool like a video-based curriculum, you can help your people live in obedience to God by equipping them for what God commands them to do. When did this become an option?

Insight #3: Focus on Recruiting Group Leaders.

If your pastor is willing to give “airtime” in the weekend service to talk about groups, recruit leaders. If your pastor gives you airtime for multiple weekends, recruit leaders. If you are recruiting leaders, people will figure out the church is launching groups or doing a church-wide campaign. Don’t waste this precious airtime promoting groups. And, certainly don’t waste this precious airtime promoting classes and Bible studies that are on their way out. Recruit leaders.

Insight #4: Keep the Invitation and the Response Close Together.

People only think about church when they are in church. When the pastor invites folks to lead a group, then provide a way IN THE SERVICE for them to respond. Don’t send them to the lobby. Don’t send them to the website. Don’t send them out the door without collecting their response.

Whether you use a response card which is placed in the offering, an online survey taken on a smartphone, or texting a message to a designated number, you want to get a “Yes” from every willing person before they head out the door. If you send an email invitation from the Senior Pastor during the week, provide a link for them to sign up online.

Insight #5: Shorten the Distance Between Their “Yes” and Starting the Group.

Since we’ve already waved the requirements, the new leaders are already one step closer to starting their group. Whether the Senior Pastor encourages them in the service to begin inviting people to their groups or they are instructed on how to form their groups in a briefing immediately after the service, don’t allow any time to pass from when they say “Yes” to when the new leaders put things in motion.

The longer you wait, the sooner they will get cold feet. Don’t schedule a briefing or orientation a month from the invitation because it’s efficient. I would rather host three briefs per weekend for three weeks in a row with a handful of people at each than wait a month and lose half of the prospective leaders in the process. You’ve made it easy for people to start groups, now get them started!

Insight #6: Recruit During the Month Prior to Your Launch.

While you can promote well in advance of the series, don’t take signups for months. I learned this from a PTA president. Promote early and often, but only take signups right before the event. Otherwise, you can recruit and recruit only to discover most people will sign up in the last three weeks before the start of the launch.

One month out gather your existing group leaders to give them the first look at the series. I call this a Sneak Peek. This will honor your leaders by giving them an exclusive opportunity to check out the new study. This will also take pressure off of your new leader briefings by briefing your established leaders ahead of time. This is also a great opportunity to recruit your established leaders to coach new leaders.

Then, recruit new leaders for the three weeks leading up to the launch. Not everyone attends every weekend, so you want to ask for more than one weekend. Also, some people will need time to warm up to the idea. The first week they might say “No” to leading a group, but by the third week, their “No” might turn to a “Yes.”

Insight #7: Your Senior Pastor Must be Your Church’s Small Group Champion.

Going back 20 years, I used to personally recruit every small group leader in my church. While I had stellar group leaders, my church also got stuck at 30 percent of our people in groups. Then, I asked my Senior Pastor to invite people to lead groups. We doubled our groups in a day. I have not personally recruited another small group leader since 2004. And, I served in a whole other church since then!

To gain your Senior Pastor’s interest in groups, put your pastor on the curriculum. If you do, your pastor will be more interested in groups because he will want people to use his curriculum. Also, your people will be far more interested in joining a group, because they already like your pastor’s teaching.

I know I gave you these seven insights in rapid fire succession. If you hit these seven points, you will have a great small group launch. If you want to hear more, then register for my next webinar at allenwhite.org/webinars.

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5.5 Questions with Alan Danielson

By Allen White Alan Danielson

My guest today is Alan Danielson, the Lead Pastor of a church that’s probably a lot like yours. New Life Bible Church is a church of a few hundred people, but not long ago he was on the executive staff of Life.Church in Edmond, OK. Now, along with pastoring New Life, Alan is a consultant and has worked with many of America’s largest churches. Alan founded Triple-Threat Solutions to help leaders of and churches of all sizes grow. Learn more from Alan at http://www.3Threat.net.

Q1: You’re not new at small groups. Over the years, what trends/methods/strategies in forming groups have stood the test of time?

Oh boy, I have several things that come to mind.  The first and most obvious answer is leadership.  Every group that lasts needs a leader.  There are “leaderless” methods for starting groups but these groups only last long-term when someone in the group demonstrates leadership.  They may never actually give someone the title of leader, but make no mistake a truly “leaderless” group won’t be a group for long.

The second thing that pops into my head is coaching.  I’m a huge believer in small group coaches.  I’ve heard lots of people claim that coaching doesn’t work, but that has certainly not been my experience.  By providing coaches to connect with and guide my small group leaders, I’ve given them all a lifeline and a partner.  I once asked my friend Dave Treat why some people are down on small group coaching when it has proven to be so important to me.  He said, “Coaching works, but people are lazy.”  What that means is that coaching is hard work and it only works if pastors and other leaders will put in the effort needed.

Thirdly, I think of church wide small group campaigns.  Campaigns are such a simple tool for launching new groups and getting new people connected.  If a campaign is followed up by capable small group coaches, the new groups can last a long time and provide a great platform for discipleship.

Q2: When you think about methods like church-wide campaigns and other ways of rapidly forming groups, do you see these srategies going the long haul? Why or why not?

I’ve seen both.  I’ve seen churches run campaigns, start a ton of groups, get bunches of people connected only to see those groups fizzle out after a few months.

I’ve also seen churches run campaigns, start a ton of groups, get bunches of people connected and then see the groups last and build tremendous relationships that change lives.

So what’s the difference?  The first two things I talked about after your first question: leadership and coaching.  At some point someone in the group has to take up the mantle of leader (whether they want the title or not).  The perfect person to guide the would-be leader through that process is a small group coach.  A well-trained coach can help people make the transition into leadership well.  Without leaders and coaches, small groups quickly implode, collapse, dissolve or just fade away.

Q3: You’ve served as a small group champion as both a small group pastor and a senior pastor. Where have you been the most effective in group ministry? What made it more effective?

Well, it depends on what you call effective.  When I was a campus small group pastor at Life.Church we developed 544 groups on a campus of 7,000 people.  544 groups sounds really impressive, but I was never impressed.  We averaged 8.45 people per group which translated 4,597 people connected.  That still sounds like a lot.  But when compared to our campus attendance of 7,000 it meant that just under 66% of our weekend attenders were in groups.  In school 66% is a D.

When I was promoted to executive groups pastor over all of our campuses we got to nearly 1,100 groups total for all of our campuses.  That came out to 9,295 people in groups.  At the time we were running 28,000 on all campuses meaning we had 33% of our total attendance in groups.  That’s an F.

Now I’m the lead pastor of a church of 300 and we have about 80% of our people in groups.  That’s much better.

What made the difference in these three different settings?  Leadership and coaching.  On the one campus where I led the small group ministry, coaching was a critical component.  When I was given charge of all 13 campuses, we were in the middle of implementing our coaching ministry on all campuses.  If I’d stayed there longer I believe we would have broken the 66% mark and gone even further.

Here’s the big takeaway: small groups and coaching work in all churches of all size.  Success is determined not by the slickness of the strategy but by the break-neck-work-ethic of every leader involved (from the pastor to the group leader) and high value of small groups in the church.  My current church will one day hit, and I believe exceed, the 100% mark because, as the lead pastor, I am committed to our strategy.  Then I hire staff who share that commitment, who recruit coaches who share that commitment, who train leaders who share that commitment.

Q4: What is different about Group Life in Oklahoma than in other places?

The Food!  When I was a pastor in Santa Fe, New Mexico, you could be sure that every small group had some form of green chile every week.  In Oklahoma there are lots of veggie trays, followed by some kind of meat and dessert.

Seriously though, I don’t really think there’s much difference.  People are people everywhere you go.  As I’ve consulted with churches all across the country I’ve noticed that people crave connection everywhere.  Every neighborhood needs groups who will care for the neighborhood.  Every person in every church needs healthy relationships and needs to grow spiritually.  The biggest difference is simply one of awareness.  In the Oklahoma (often called the buckle of the Bible Belt), more people in the culture are aware of small groups or Bible study groups.  In Portland, Oregon the average person hasn’t heard of such a thing.

Q5: When we first met, you were the small groups pastor at LifeChurch.tv (now Life.Church). What did you small group structure look like across multiple campuses? Were groups consistent across campuses or did that matter?

The goal was to have a consistent group strategy and structure on all campuses.  It was to be built on three basic building-blocks:  leaders, coaches and campaigns.  We did two campaigns every year, so we needed coaches on every campus who would develop great leaders in a very short time.  That’s a pretty over-simplified summary, but I think you get the gist.

Anyway, when I became the point person overseeing groups on all campuses, the group ministries did not have a very consistent look.  My predecessor had encouraged lots of experimentation on every campus, so there were definitely differences from one campus to the next.  These differences were both good and bad.  The good thing was that each of our 13 campuses was a laboratory where we could try different strategies and tactics.  The bad thing was the tendency of the campus groups pastors becoming too attached to their own way of doing things.  This led to quite a bit of tension.

Okay, before I continue I have to give you a little more context.  What I’m saying may sound like I’m running down Life.Chruch, but that’s most definitely NOT my intent.  Remember, when I was at Life.Church, the multi-site movement was still very new.  In many ways we were making things up as we went along.  We quickly became the biggest multi-site church in the country and had few examples to learn from, so we made a TON of mistakes.  That’s why I’m very comfortable sharing that we got an “F” for only 33% of our people in groups.  But in this case and “F” is not automatically a failure.  We didn’t necessarily view each experiment as “success” or “failure”, but as an “opportunity to learn”.  Even things that didn’t pan out like we’d hoped taught us a lot.

So through all of this I learned that the most important part of leading multi-site small group ministry came down to the campus small group pastor.  If the campus small group pastor was a teachable, team-player, he/she was far more likely to utilize the basics that we wanted to implement on each campus (the basics being the things I mentioned earlier:  leaders, coaches and campaigns).  The independent-type campus group pastors had a tendency to try to blaze their own trails.  Rather than building upon something proven effective, they often tried to start building from a new foundation.  This often led to slower success. Under my leadership, the ideal personality-mix for a campus group pastor was a creative person who is willing to learn from and follow their leadership.  Rather than being trail blazers (or sometimes even rebels), these types of campus group pastors implemented the basics and experimented with ideas only if they would enhance or improve the basics.

Q5.5: As the co-owner of the second largest Star Wars fan site in the world, what is your favorite Star Wars movie?

It’s episode V, The Empire Strikes Back!

 

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Free ebook Exponential Groups

Free ebook

EXPONENTIAL GROUPS

by Allen White

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