Leading a Group for the First Time

By Allen White nervous

As a new group leader, there are a few things to think about as you go into your first meeting. In fact, there may be too many things to think about. Focus on the basics and you will have a great first meeting.

  1. Prepare.

As the leader of this group, you don’t have to be the expert. If you’re using video-based curriculum, there’s your expert, so let the video teaching lead the way. Otherwise, just follow along with the instructions in your study guide. But, before the meeting it’s a good idea to review the video and the discussion questions yourself. The videos are only 7-8 minutes long, then just read through the questions.

If you find your group doesn’t have time to complete the entire discussion guide, that’s ok. Prioritize the questions for the time you have available. As you get to know the group, choose questions that are appropriate for the group. If your group has been together for a while, or if your group members are well beyond the basics of parenting, then maybe skip the first question, and go for the second question which is maybe more of an accountability question regarding what they committed to do in the previous meeting.

  1. Pray for Your Group.

If you feel anxious about leading the group or even inadequate, that is perfectly normally, especially if you are leading for the first time. The Bible says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV). So how often should you pray? Pray every time you feel anxious. God will give you peace.

The video and discussion guide are pretty easy to use. It’s practically a no brainer. But, just because the curriculum is easy to use, doesn’t mean you should go into the meeting “cold” spiritually. Commit the meeting to God. Invite His presence into your meeting, then watch Him work.

  1. Guiding the Discussion – Not a teacher, more of a referee.

While everyone should have a chance to share their thoughts and experiences, as the leader your job is to facilitate a discussion, not to teach a class. You want to make sure everyone gets their word in. You also want to make sure no one dominates the discussion. If someone tends to jump in on every question, politely say, “Now, on this next question let’s hear from a few of you who haven’t had a chance to share.” If the person dominating the meeting continues to do this, then you might need to talk to them outside of the group meeting.

Since you as the leader prepared ahead of time for the lesson, don’t count on all of the group members preparing ahead for this meeting. Remember, they are assigned two extensive lessons in the workbook each week. When you ask the discussion questions, it may take the group members a couple of seconds to put their thoughts together. That’s ok. Don’t feel you that as the leader you need to fill the silence. Let them think a minute.

  1. Praying Together as a Group.

Habits are hard to break and sometimes hard to start. Changing attitudes and behaviors  requires more than just will power. It requires God’s power. At the end of every meeting subgroup into groups of 3-4 people, so everyone can talk about their needs, and then pray together. In a large group, some people won’t share, and it will take a much longer time, so subgrouping is necessary.

Also, limit the prayer requests to what is personally affecting the group member. Now, they may be concerned about Aunt Gertrude’s big toe or something they read about on the internet, but this really isn’t the place to discuss that. As much as you can keep the focus of the prayer time on the changes group members need to make related to their parenting style.

  1. Ask for Volunteers.

Don’t lead the group alone. Just because you are the designated leader, you do not need to do everything for the group. In fact, delegate as much as you possibly can: the refreshments, the home you meet in, and even leading the discussion. If you do this right, you might only need to lead for the first session, then others will lead for the rest.

As group members become more involved in the leadership, they will feel a stronger sense of ownership in the group. Pretty soon the group will go from being “your group” to being “our group.”

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Video: How to Run an Epic Group Launch

By Allen White

The video in this post is from a recent webinar. It is long (50 minutes), but it is loaded with content, content, content on how to Run an Epic Group Launch. You can run one. I know it.

If you would like to have the PowerPoint slides for How to Run an Epic Group Launch: CLICK HERE.

If you want any of the goodies mentioned in How to Run an Epic Group Launch: CLICK HERE.

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Introducing Allen White Consulting

It took me seven years to connect 30 percent of our church members into groups. This wasn’t our first attempt Social Media Pic - lower reseither. We attended conferences, read books, interviewed pastors, and studied model after model. We had more groups than most, but our groups were stuck.

Then, my pastor and I made a decision to join a coaching group and learn some proven ways to do small groups. Within six months, not only had we connected everybody into groups, we also had another 25 percent over and above our weekly adult attendance. Coaching made a huge difference for us.

Over the last 12 years, I have had the privilege of coaching hundreds of churches across North American including some of the largest ones. In the last nine months, churches in our coaching program have started upwards of 5,000 small groups total…and that’s only around 18 churches. A church of 2,500 in Renton, WA now has 500 groups. A church of 300 in Barrington, IL connected nearly 600 people into groups this last year. Some truly amazing things have come out of coaching.

With Allen White Consulting, we want to make these proven strategies available to a church of any size. We want to help you connect your members into groups and keep those groups for the long term by offering high quality coaching. Some churches we work with have paid $30,000-$50,000 per year for coaching. We want to make these effective principles available to every church at a price you can afford. We are doing this through:

Free Webinars.

Online Courses starting at $97. Our newest course is available for $57 (a 60% discount).

Coaching Groups of 5 churches learning together starting at $197 per month.

Personal Coaching for individual churches (fees are based on the size of church).

I want to help you the same way someone once helped me. Now, I could have continued the cycle of attending conferences, reading books, trying new ideas, starting 10 more groups, but once I embraced the focus and momentum of coaching, we doubled our groups in a day. I can help you step by step toward your goals.

Where are you stuck? I will give you 20 minutes of my time to work through your issue. Call me at 949-235-7428 or email: allen@allenwhite.org

Allen White
Allen White Consulting, Inc.
Taking the Guesswork Out of Groups

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5.5 Questions with Chris Surratt

By Allen White Chris Head Shot 12_13

Chris Surratt is a ministry consultant and coach with over twenty-two years of experience serving the local church. Most recently, Chris served on the Executive Team at Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN. Before coming to Cross Point in 2009, Chris was on staff at Seacoast Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Chris’s first book, Small Groups For The Rest Of Us: How to Design Your Small Groups System to Reach the Fringes, will be released by Thomas Nelson on September 29, 2015. You can find Chris blogging regularly at www.chrissurratt.com on the subjects of community, discipleship and leadership.

Q1. When we first met, you were the Greenville Campus Pastor for Seacoast Church. Seacoast the first multi-site church, and now there are over 8,000. What has changed with multi-site?

I would say that a lot has changed since we started experimenting with multisite in 2002. Very few churches were doing it, so no one had written books or started conferences about it yet. We felt like we were building the plane while we were flying it. While we made a ton of mistakes along the way, I don’t know that we would have tried it if we knew what we were doing.

Churches are now opening up the definition of what a multiiste church can look like. Before, the only churches starting sites were mega-churches. Now, churches of all sizes are planting campuses. We saw it as primarily a band aid to growth capacity issues, but churches are now using it as an extension or a new expression of their ministry. People used to consider multisite a fad that would pass eventually. I don’t know that it will any time soon.

Q2. What NEEDS to change with multi-site?

There are still churches who look to multisite as a method for instant growth. With over 8000 multisite churches, it’s easy to want to jump onto the bandwagon and be a part of the movement, but not every church is ready or equipped to handle the issues that come with multiple locations. If your church is not currently growing in one location, and you still have capacity for growth, another location will not magically get it kick started. Cracks become gaps when you go multisite. Those same issues that are holding back potential now will travel with you to the next location. Put everything into making what you have now as healthy as possible, then consider multiplying it.

Q3. You just left the staff at Cross Point Church in Nashville to enter into the consulting world. I don’t understand why anyone would want to do that at all (wink). How can consultants help churches?

My family recently moved into a brand new house in downtown Nashville. During the process of moving in, someone (could have been me – no one really knows) took a chunk out of the wall carrying furniture up the stairs. Our first reaction was, we have to get that fixed as soon as possible, because it is going to drive us crazy to look at everyday. Two years later and it’s not fixed, and we never notice it anymore. The only time we think about it is when our small group comes to the house and lovingly points it out for us.

No matter how amazing your church staff is, there is nothing like bringing in fresh eyes to see the cracks you have been staring at for months – or even years. A good consultant (like Allen or myself) can come in and walk alongside the staff to help maximize the good and fix the bad. My job is not to prescribe my way of ministry, but work with the leaders to make sure it fits their mission and culture.

Q4. I recently met your dad in Orlando with your brother, Greg. It seems a lot of pastor’s kids end up needing psychotherapy, yet the Surratt family now has generations of church leaders. What did your parents give you?

We have been referred to as the “Surratt Mafia” of the church world. I’m not sure if that’s good or not, but we should probably get nicer suits to wear. I think part of it is: we didn’t know anything else. My life has been spent in the church and I cannot imagine a better place to be. Growing up we had Sunday morning service, Sunday night service, Wednesday night Bible study, and revivals that would last for weeks. My mom would always say, “You don’t have to go to church, you get to go to church.”

But, I never felt pressure to have to be in full-time ministry. My parents just instilled a love for the local church and the passion to help her reach the world with the Gospel. The methods have definitely changed with the generations of Surratts, but the mission has not.

And, a follow up question, which doesn’t count toward the 5.5 questions, is the multiplication of the Surratt family the secret behind a multi-site church?

Definitely with my brother, Greg. His kids have taken the “be fruitful and multiply” commandment personally.

Q5. Your new book is called Small Groups for the Rest of Us. Who is “us?” Is there a “them?”

As an introvert by nature, I have always felt left out by most small group systems. Between the connection hoops and the demand to share my secret sins in a room full of strangers, small groups felt like an intimidating concept. While thinking through how we could better design a system to reach people like me, I started running into other groups of people we were missing through our processes. If we were going to say we believed in community for everyone, what does that look like? The typical small group system is designed for the typical church attender. We have to begin thinking differently if we want to reach the people on the fringes.

You’ll have to buy the book to find out how. :)

AW: I’m looking forward to it!

Q5.5 Titans or Broncos?

Marcus Mariota (Titans) FTW!

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A Biblical Basis for Small Groups

By Allen White biblical basis

Scripture speaks of all growth and ministry in the context of relationship. Very few people in the Bible are lone rangers. Moses had Aaron and Hur. While Joseph was rejected by his original small group, his brothers, he was adopted into other groups: the Egyptian royal family, fellow prisoners, the royal family again, then his brothers again. Ok, not the perfect scenario, but one with a purpose. Groups are present throughout Scripture.

God exists in community as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.[i] While the Trinity is certainly a mystery, God is definitely One and clearly Three. Whether he’s like an egg, a tricycle or an ice cube, we’ll let the theologians decide. It’s not even a question of whether God could exist only as One and not Three. Scripture reveals God is Three in One. Either by necessity or example, this is Who God is.

God created man in His image and, while all of God’s creation was deemed “good,”[ii] the one thing that was “not good” was man living in isolation.[iii] The relationship between man and woman, however, was blessed by God.[iv] The ideal for biblically functioning community then, is individuals in relationship with each other and in relationship with God. The family was the first small group.

The fulfillment of God’s purposes of redemption and reconciliation both in the Old and New Covenants involves a “chosen” people: the people of Israel,[v] the disciples,[vi] and the Church.[vii] While over the centuries revivalists have emphasized the need for a personal relationship with God, this was to overcome the idea that salvation was mediated through the church rather than through Christ Himself. A believer’s relationship with God is personal, but it’s not private.

A friend  of mine was sitting on a plane next to a woman as she was grading papers about the Old Testament. He asked, “Do you teach Old Testament?”

She replied, “Well, some people call it that.” She was Jewish.

My friend explained he was a Christian pastor and was just curious.

The woman said, “Can I ask you a question?” He consented. “Why do you Christians have to be saved? Jews are God’s People. We didn’t have to do anything to be that. Your Bible says Christians are grafted in, so why all of this worry over being saved?”

Obviously, this woman didn’t completely grasp the idea that Christians are made and not born that way, but she did have an interesting observation. At times believers overemphasize our need for acceptance and underemphasize the fact that we belong. There is a key decision to be made in order to become “grafted in,” but once we’re there, our focus should be in the context of belonging to God’s People rather than determining how hard we should work to please God.

God, Who lives in community, created a marriage, which produced a family, which through a lot of ups and downs eventually created a People. When the People strayed, God sent His Son to reconciled all people to Himself through salvation and to create a new People called the Church.

The best example of this type of community is found in the small group. The Bible tells us the church met in temple courts and house to house[viii]. The church met in a large public setting, which they did not own, and they met in houses, which they did own.

The early church followed this spiritual growth plan:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.[ix]

Some people have touted this passage as the epitome of the church. These verses reflect the ultimate of what every church should strive for. Yet, look at the context. These weren’t platitudes, but practices. These are statements of actions, not goals and objectives. Then, there’s the timing — this wasn’t the church after several hundred years. This was the church on the First Day!

Why have we made this so complicated?

[i] Matthew 28:19

[ii] Genesis 1:4-31

[iii] Genesis 2:18

[iv] Genesis 1:28

[v] Deuteronomy 7:6

[vi] John 6:70

[vii] Colossians 3:12; 1 Peter 2:9

[viii] Acts 5:42

[ix] Acts 2:42-47 Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Is Your Group System Like A Baby or a Loaf of Bread?

What giving up control taught me about effective group ministry

By Allen White

I hear a lot of pastors who debate the need for a quality experience at the expense of connecting and growing the vast majority of their congregations and their communities into their group system. I also hear the reverse of this which is in order to embrace a large quantity of groups, then quality must somehow be sacrificed.

We approach ministry as if we have all of the time in the world. Somehow we think our people will live forever, and so will the people our people need to reach for Christ. But, let’s be honest, we don’t have the luxury of time.

The Apostle Paul didn’t have the luxury of time either. Reviewing his journeys in the Book of Acts, Paul never spent more than 6-18 months in any one location, yet in his quest to spread the Gospel throughout the known world and to reach Spain, he put leaders in place everywhere he planted a church, then gave them the crash course on ministry. We would call this “quick and dirty” before we would call it “quality.” Paul gave them their marching orders, then basically instructed them, “Do the best you can. The Holy Spirit will guide you. If you run into trouble, then send me a letter.” Then, Paul was off to the next place.

In living with the tension between the quality and quantity of ministry, I want you to consider these words from Peter Drucker on the Profession of Management:

“…there are two different kinds of compromise. One is expressed in an old proverb, ‘Half a loaf of bread is better than no bread.’ The other, in the story of the judgment of Solomon, is clearly based on the realization that ‘half a baby is worse than no baby at all.’ In the first instance, the boundary conditions are still being satisfied. The purpose of bread is to provide food, and half a loaf is still food. Half a baby, however, does not satisfy the boundary conditions. For half a baby is not half of a living and growing child.

“It is a waste of time to worry about what will be acceptable and what a decision maker should or should not say so as not to evoke resistance…In other words, the decision maker gains nothing by starting out with the question, ‘What is acceptable?’ For in the process of answering it, he or she  usually gives away the important things and loses any chance to come up with an effective — let alone the right — answer.”

In retelling this story, my friend and mentor, Carl George once asked this question which changed the course of my thinking about small group ministry: “Are your groups more like a baby or a loaf of bread? Because if it’s like a baby, then half a baby won’t do. You want a perfect baby. But, if it’s more like a loaf of bread and you’re starving, any amount of bread will help to alleviate the hunger.”

In managing the tension between quality and quantity, we must figure out a way to embrace the Genius of the And, as coined by Jim Collins in Built to Last. This isn’t an either/or circumstance, in that, if there is no quantity, then quality doesn’t actually matter. The question is whether the limitation on the quantity is a matter of necessity or a personal need for control.

As I wrestled with this tension when I was first introduced to the idea of rapidly expanding group system, I pleaded with God, “But, I need quality control.”

God called me on it. He spoke to me and said, “Allen, when you say ‘quality control,’ quality is your excuse.”

God doesn’t go easy on me. But, I got the point, and moved forward.

What do you think?


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Before You Wreck Your Whole System

By Allen White atl - allen white taking the guesswork out of groups

When you fly, you count on sameness. Good planes, good service, on-time departure — these are the things frequent fliers enjoy. Anything out of the ordinary is unwelcome.

When things become out of the ordinary on a trip, like someone brings out the snack cart at your gate, it is the kiss of death for an on-time departure. Of course, I enjoy the snacks. They help to cover the taste of bitterness from a lackluster travel day. Same is good. Snacks are good. The reason for snacks is not good. On one recent flight, the snack cart contained sandwiches. I just rented an apartment at ATL for a few days.

One day I discovered the airline made a big change on purpose — not to every flight at every gate, just the gate I was leaving from. It was an experiment. They were running a pilot of a new way to board the plane. It was NOT the same, but it bore some promise.

At a Terminal B gate at ATL, just down from the Popeye’s with great service, the boarding area was laid out completely different. First, the gate agent announced a free valet service to place your carry on bag above your seat prior to boarding. At first everyone was skeptical. After all, if you travel frequently, you understand there are only two types of luggage: carry on and lost. (If you at all envy how much I travel, you are sick in the head by the way. It’s the closest I get to taking the bus).

Then, rather than all of the passengers ganging up to bolt onto the plane as soon as “Sky” was called after “Premium,” the airline changed something else. Sameness was gone. They had laid out three lanes on the floor like we were boarding with a 50 yard dash. Suddenly everyone was reliving the early days of Southwest Airlines when you stood in line for 60 minutes to grab an exit row seat.

Above each lane was a screen indicating where you should line up. Lane one: Premium (First Class), Lane two: Sky Priority (People who live on planes), Lane three: Zone 1. Ready, set, board. It worked pretty good, once we figured out what we were doing. No other gate at any other airport Delta flies had this system. Just this one gate. It was a pilot.

People like to know what they can count on. Now, in any organization some of those things are becoming outdated or ineffective. They need to change. Change is not wrong. But those who experience change feel a sense of loss, even passengers boarding planes. We had already figured out our angle to get on first. Now, we have to rethink it.

Rather than wrecking everything you’ve got, try a pilot. It’s more important to engage folks who are marginally involved than to upend your current system in favor of something newer and shinier. And, in the process you just might save your own tail. As John Maxwell says, “If you’re one step ahead you’re a leader. If you’re ten steps ahead you’re a martyr.”

Pilot something new. Live to tell about it.

Get the First Chapter of My New Book: Exponential Groups

Watch My Webinar: 4 Keys to an Effective Group Launch


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7 Reasons Your Fall Group Launch Bombed

By Allen White empty room

I wrote this post last Fall as a postmortem of a church’s group launch after a colossal failure.  They ignored some fundamentals, allowed their communications department to take over the messaging, and the whole thing would have tanked except for an 11th hour appeal. Please take the following into consideration, so they next postmortem won’t be about your launch!

Fall is a prime season to launch groups in churches across the country. In my consulting work with hundreds of churches across North America, I am working with churches from Florida to Washington and Southern California to New Hampshire. Among churches of various sizes and denominations, we are seeing some tremendous results. But, not every church hits a home run with their group launch. Here are some reasons why.

  1. You picked the wrong topic.

Small groups are a great vehicle for people to grow spiritually. But, in order for people to grow in a group, they need to actually be in a group. If a church’s goal is to connect their congregation into groups, then a felt needs topic is very attractive. If you give people something they want to study, they will jump right in. If you offer something they “should” study, it may not go so well.

Let me go on the record: Healthy, balanced small groups cannot live by felt needs topics alone. But, kicking off groups usually doesn’t go well with series on evangelism, stewardship, fasting, or other self-sacrificial studies. You need to establish your goal. If you want to increase the number of groups, then go felt needs. If you want to grow your people deeper, then offer these topics to your established groups.

  1. You set the bar too high.

The more requirements for group leadership, the fewer leaders you will recruit. If you required all of your new leaders to be church members, complete a lengthy leadership training process, or graduate with their Master of Divinity, you certainly limited the number of groups you could launch this Fall.

Your level of acceptable risk will greatly determine the reward. If you invite people to do a study with their friends, then you are only limited to people with friends. If you increase the requirements, you lessen the impact.

If you choose to lower the bar next time, then lessen the risk by forming “unpublished” groups. If the groups don’t appear on your church’s website, group listing, or bulletin, you are not implying any kind of official endorsement of the groups. If friends invite friends, you will form good, lasting groups, and if someone gets in a bad group, well, it was their friend’s group after all.

  1. You focused on recruiting group members.

As a pastor, if the invitation is for potential group members, you may or may not actually start groups. You will certainly give yourself a lot of busy work trying to find enough leaders to accommodate the prospects or trying to place people in the right group. But, you’ve missed the mark and the point.

If you have a bunch of prospective group members, you might have a group. If you have a leader, you WILL have a group. In fact, the best way to get into a group is to start a group — you’re automatically in! When the focus is on recruiting leaders, you will greatly increase your number of groups. If your focus is on members, you will probably just end up with a mess.

  1. You put too much distance between the invitation and the response.

When you or your senior pastor made the invitation for people to start a group, how and when did they respond?

If they were sent to the church website to register, they didn’t go.

If they were sent to the church lobby, they walked right by.

If they were invited to a meeting in the near future, they forgot.

If they had a sign up card in their hand during the service, bingo, they’re in!

If they were sent an email to remind them to sign up at church on Sunday, they forgot again.

If they were sent an email with a registration link, then they signed up.

The less distance between the invitation and the response, the greater the result.

  1. You gave too many steps from “Yes” to starting the group.

If the pathway from the response to the group starting took too many steps, then you lost leaders at every phase.

If you recruited months in advance of your group launch, there were too many days before they started. Cold feet and good intentions didn’t get them there.

If you required a training class, a membership  class, a pastoral interview, a group orientation, a group connection, and a final debrief meeting, you lost, lost, lost, lost and lost new group leaders.

If you kept the steps to a minimum, based on your own acceptable level of risk, you kept far more than any of the above scenarios.

  1. Your recruitment period was too short.

A few years ago, I was working with two churches of similar size who were launching groups on the same week. One church recruited 20 new leaders. The other recruited 60. The first church recruited leaders for one week. The second church recruited for three weeks in a row. Triple the recruiting equaled triple the result. You do the math.

  1. Your senior pastor was not on board.

If your senior pastor was hesitant about your next series in any way, it hurt you. Half-hearted appeals and hit or miss invitations lead to lackluster results.

If your senior pastor didn’t make the invitation for leaders, that was a huge miss. The senior pastor will get three times the result of any other staff member. I’ve served as an associate pastor for 20 of my 24 years of ministry. As soon as I learned this, I never made the invitation again.

How do you get your senior pastor on board with the series you recommend? You don’t. If you want your group launch to succeed, you have to get on board with where your senior pastor wants to go. If you respect your senior pastor’s direction, you will see respectable results. If you try to pressure your senior pastor into a series that is not his idea, you are on your own (literally).

Last Sunday, I worshipped with a church who had never had small groups. Their senior pastor decided it was time. He cast vision for groups. He kept the response close to the invitation. He focused on recruiting leaders. He did it all right. Then, on Sunday afternoon, 360 new group leaders showed up for training (and they have two more weeks to recruit!)

Between January and May this year, we have helped 12 churches launch nearly 3,000 small groups. One church of 2,500 adults now has 500 small groups. Another church of 4,000 adults recruited 1,200 people to LEAD groups. A church in the Harrisburg, PA area has grown by 7.5 percent over last year, and giving has increased by 7 percent because of connecting people into groups. Big things are happening if you follow these principles.

Learn the lessons from your failed attempt. There is no shame in failure, but there is shame in not learning.

Download my Free Ebook: Exponential Groups

Watch my Free Webinar: 4 Keys to an Exponential Group Launch

Related Posts:

Read how Dr. Tony Evans recruited 500 new group leaders in just 3 weeks.

The Case Against Sign Up Cards

Why Reconnect Members Who Are Already Connected?

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What’s an Acceptable Level of Risk?

By Allen White Risk Taking the Guesswork out of groups allen white

Trying anything new involves a certain amount of risk. Some people jump into things haphazardly and take foolish risks. Others hold back and risk little or nothing. Sometimes no risk is riskier than the other options.

The bottom line is change causes a sense of loss. You’re saying goodbye to the way things used to be and welcoming something new, sometimes unproven. It’s risky business for sure.

If we risk too much on the wrong things, we ended up bankrupting the leadership credit we had in the bank. But, if we don’t risk any change, we are just burying our leadership “talents” in the ground, which really doesn’t help anyone.

The fear of every pastor is that change will alienate the base. If the stakeholders become upset, they might leave, or worse yet, they might stay but just stop giving. If the change alienates the base, reduces giving, and ultimately costs the pastor his job, then why  would anyone want to take a risk?

It’s possible to take risks that aren’t so risky. There’s a big difference between a strategic risk and reckless abandon. The approach makes a big difference.

How much risk are you comfortable with?

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5.5 Questions with Kirby Holmes

Kirby Holmes lives in the progressive and post-modern city of Austin, Texas. He is currently a Small Groups Pastor at the Kirby_Holmesmain campus of Gateway Church. As a ‘No Perfect People Allowed’ church that is effectively reaching people at the crowds edge Kirby often navigates cultural hot topics in his group’s ministry. He is the central Texas huddle leader for the Small Groups Network. Kirby is currently working on his Master of Arts in Global Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Q1: Austin is a very cool town. You’ve got SXSW, millions of bats under the Congress Avenue Bridge, and a very progressive culture for Texas. How is ministry different in Austin than in other places?

KH: Some might consider Texas the Bible belt but I can assure you Austin slipped through one of the holes on the belt. It is a progressive, post-modern, and primarily a post-Christian city more like Portland or Boston. We expect people who interact with our church community to be skeptical, cynical, and have real questions about faith and religion. We also expect that most people are not Biblically literate and equate most of the Biblical stories to myth.

 Q2: A lot of churches launch groups with a church-wide campaign. Is a campaign something that has worked for you? Why or why not?

KH: Yes, we have seen success with church-wide campaigns. We typically align our church calendar to have two group campaigns a year, one in September and one in January. We have found people are willing to try a group if the whole church is in on it. It gives people a chance to try community but also explore a topic that meets a need in their life (relationships, work, bad habits, exploring spiritual life, etc.). We usually have a strong communication push for the campaign leading up to a Connection Event that happens in the courtyard of all of our church campuses. During the Connection Event people go and meet group leaders face-to-face and sign up for a group. Group campaigns help connect people from the crowd into groups. It is also a great way to onboard new group leaders with a clear specific path for creating a new group.

AW: One follow up question which does NOT count in the 5.5 questions (what?): what do you require of your group leaders before they can lead?

KH: There are high-bar, low-bar, and open-bar (bottoms up!) approaches to group leader qualifications. Gateway is currently using a high-bar approach. Gateway does not have a membership process. We do, however, have a leadership process we call Commissioning. We see the early church in Acts commissioning those who are being sent into specific roles of ministry in the body. Paul indicates in his letter to Titus and Timothy the character of leaders who should be commissioned by the church. We base our leadership process on these two big ideas. Our Commissioning process has three parts: personal, private and public. The first part is a personal 21-day journal that an emerging leader goes through on their own to reflect on Scriptures and questions related to our churches mission, beliefs, values, and commitments to being part of our Commissioned core. The second part is a private conversation with one of our staff about the their reflections in the journal. The third part, if the staff commissions them, is to have a public ceremony in front of our whole church body on a Sunday morning for every new person being Commissioned. We have these ceremonies three to four times a year.

Q3: My impression is that many of the folks who attend Gateway don’t have much of a church background. How is ministry at Gateway different from what seminary prepared you for? (If my assumption about Gateway is wrong, feel free to blow me out of the water.)

KH: Ministry at Gateway is more like a missionary endeavor. Often time’s seminary trains church leaders to exegete Scriptures to be good teachers, but not how to exegete culture to be good missionaries. We have been intentional to exegete the culture, not just the Scriptures, so we can be effective missionaries to people. Many of our church staff lived on the field in global missions before joining the staff at Gateway. I think this has helped our understanding of some of the current realities in the changing cultural landscape.

Q4: You are a very likable guy and always seem to have a great attitude. What keeps you inspired? Or is this all a ruse?

KH: I am not always inspired, or even liked, but thanks for thinking of me that way Allen.

AW: I may be thinking of a different Kirby then.

[Awkward Pause]

KH: One time, when I was a university student studying architecture, I was working on a project late at night with an impending deadline that week. With tired eyes, I was working on drawings and a clay model when I had an experience with God. God told me he wanted my life to be more about people than projects. My notes about this encounter with God were written in my project notebook and I even presented them to my professor. Over the next few months I accepted God’s invitation to become his servant missionary to people. I have made it my goal to be approachable with people. God’s shaping activity in my life causes me to be likable because it serves the church when we are a community in relationship with one another.

Q5: Tell us about the most recent hard lesson you’ve learned in ministry.

KH: I met with an emerging leader last week and there were areas in his life he wasn’t open to getting the help he needed. It is discouraging when people choose to stay stuck. Sometimes creating a Come-As-You-Are culture where No-Perfect-People-Are-Allowed gives people in our church a sense that there are no commitments needed, or growth required, in following Christ. Sometimes when people want to take steps into leadership and I have to tell them, “Not yet.” People will respond to me, “I thought this was a No-Perfect-People church!” and I remind them that we say Come-As-You-Are but don’t Stay-As-You-Are. While some people respond to the challenge of maturing in their relationship with Jesus, and make progress in their character formation, others aren’t willing to embrace the kind of change Jesus wants to do in their life. Seeing people walk away from the church, and Jesus, because it is challenging and asks for change can be discouraging.

AW: Ok, here it comes, the half question. Ready?

KH: Ready!

Q5.5 How many times have you been to the Salt Lick? And, if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you?

Allen, I have been to the Salt Lick plenty of times. I have been for wedding events or just to hang with the guys. Their smoke pit and display racks are like a vision of meat heaven. However, my wife Meredith and I have plans to go to Franklin’s BBQ this week which has been voted the best BBQ in the country. We will line up at 9am in the morning hoping to get into Franklin’s at noon. Even with a 3-hour wait there is no guarantee of getting the best-smoked meat on the planet!

AW: Now, imagine if you served Franklin’s BBQ at Gateway…

KH: Imagine.

AW: Now, I’m hungry.

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