Why Off Campus Groups are Just Better

By Allen White

A group’s location says a lot about the group. If a group meets in a classroom at church, it feels like Sunday school. It’s formal. Sometimes the room is distracting because it’s normally used as groupchildren’s space. I remember leading a group for Pete Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality in a third grade classroom. A child had created a poster for Diary of a Wimpy Kid. While I really wanted to help people work through their ennagrams and get to their family dynamics, I kept thinking, “No, it’s chocolate. Really!”

This is why off-campus groups are just better:

1. Better for the Group.

A home is more personal than a classroom. While a group could cover the exact same content in both environments, there is something about a home that reframes the meeting as “group life” rather than just a class. Hospitality has become a bit of a lost art. Growing up families would regularly have each other over for dinner. Today, families are generally too exhausted to think about volunteering for another thing. Inviting a group into a home is a meaningful gesture. Group members can get to know the group leader by asking about family pictures or mementos from years gone by. What’s even better is having the group trade off homes. This way the group can meet in every member’s home and get to know them better as well.

A home is a more casual environment. The meeting doesn’t necessarily feel like a “church thing.” They are meeting with a group of people to encourage each other, study God’s Word, and pray for each other. Granted, it’s not a Thursday night poker game, but you can have that kind of community.

This can also apply to a third place like a bookstore, a coffee shop or a community room at an apartment complex. While these settings are not as personal as a home, they certainly are not as formal as a classroom. The other great thing about meeting in a third place is there is no cleaning up before or after the meeting, and possibly no refreshments to provide. Latte anyone?

2. Better for the Church.

Now, by better for the church, I don’t mean less wear and tear on the building or giving the childcare workers a night off, but that’s not a bad start. Most churches do not have adequate educational space to house every small group who meets. When I served at Brookwood Church, groups met every day of the week, Sunday through Friday, morning, noon and night. Even though there were a couple hundred groups, we completely ran out of space. We weren’t going to build anything else, so where do you turn?

Once we embrace the idea that the church is not merely a building, but the body of believers, suddenly the church has all kinds of space. In fact, churches have millions and millions of dollars worth of property that they aren’t even utilizing — the homes of their members. No need for a capital campaign or building a new building, the church has buildings. They just need to plant group life there.

3. Better for the Neighborhood.

Pastors debate whether their churches should be missional or attractional. I would argue they need to be both. Churches should offer a weekend service where unchurched people would feel welcomed and interested. A place where they friends can invite them, and they can hear the Gospel. But, the church should also go to them. When our church in California, New Life Christian Center, launched our first self-produced curriculum (read more here), we encountered a result we didn’t count on — people who had never darkened the door of our church were meeting our pastor in the homes of their friends. As our group leaders reached out to friends, neighbors, and co-workers, they were invited into a comfortable place, their friend’s home, rather than a church service where they might not feel as comfortable. After a few weeks of watching our pastor on video, the leader asked if they like to come to church with them. When they came to a service, they felt like they already knew our pastor because they had just spent a few weeks with him at their friend’s house.

4. Transitioning Your Groups without Transitioning Yourself Out

There are some exceptions to where groups meet. There will certainly be some resistance. In some places, there will be a flat out sense of entitlement. After all, didn’t the church members fund the building campaign, so why can’t they use the building?

As I mentioned, when I first arrived at Brookwood Church, the vast majority of groups met on campus, and I wasn’t about to change that. It’s not that I’m a chicken. I just lack the gift of martyrdom. After all, what we were doing was working for a lot of the groups. If it ain’t broke…

I made two commitments to the existing on-campus groups. First, while we were starting many new groups off-campus, I would never ask them to move off-campus. Second, I promised them I would never split up their group if they exceeded 12 members. That’s for another day. Remember, if you kick them out, they might just kick you out.

Now, over the course of the next four years, we started hundreds of new groups off-campus. And, we started a few groups on-campus. Now by “few” I mean four groups. A couple of people could not figure out another way to have a group, so I gave them a room. Then, we started a group for single moms. Not only did I give them a room, I gave them free childcare, free curriculum, tickets to a Chonda Pierce concert (with free childcare) — the whole works. After all, single moms and their kids are our modern day “widows and orphans.”

Once we changed the expectations for most groups to meet off-campus, they figured it out: meeting place, childcare, and whatever other objection they had. They didn’t feel like second class citizens. They just understood that we were out of space. We may have missed starting a few groups along the way, but the groups we started were better in so many ways.

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Must Haves for New Small Group Leaders

By Allen White

In a meeting with the pastors and small group leaders at Element Church, a great new church plant in Woodruff, South Carolina. Their church and small group ministry is just months old. Josh Bradley and his team are doing a great job bringing a contemporary church into a small community. Here are some essential building blocks for a successful small group ministry that I shared with them last week:

1. Balance Produces Growth

Everyone who joins a group has different needs. Others have an actual agenda. Some members want to create an exact duplicate of a group they were in years ago. Still others want a group to meet their needs. Still others will want a group that is more social or more spiritual or more evangelistic or more, more. The good news is that each group can accomplish a great deal, if they agree on the direction together. Well, except, for resurrecting the great group from the past. You would need a time machine for that one.

The first groups of believers in Acts 2:42-47 met together for Discipleship, Fellowship, Ministry, Worship and Evangelism. Some have tried to say that Acts 2 represents the epitome of what an accomplished church or group should be. The truth is that this passage reveals what the church was doing on its first day! These weren’t things built over time. These were things that needed to happen all at once.

That doesn’t mean that each of these five things should happen in every meeting. But, your group needs to decide together when these things will happen. A group agreement is a great place to start. Read more about forming group agreements here.

2. Shared Leadership

Ownership is huge in developing and sustaining groups. Every member needs to have some skin in the game. As the leader, you should do everything you can to give away every task in the group to a willing volunteer. The only thing a leader shouldn’t give away is responsibility for the group. But, everything else from leading the discussion and hosting the group to bringing refreshments and following up on prayer requests should be delegated.

In the group I lead, I will announce to the group after the first lesson in a new study, “Today is the only day I will be leading the discussion. I’m passing around the calendar, and everyone needs to sign up for a week to lead.” It works every time. Now, a group member can pass, but they all can’t pass.

Another way to share leadership is to listen to what your group members care about. “I think our group should have more socials” or “It would be great if we could all come out on Saturday and help my neighbor build his fence.” Rather than the leader taking on one more responsibility, ask the person who suggested it to put something together. This strategy is known as “you spot it, you got it.” It works well.

3. Group Life Cycle

Every group goes through distinct stages in group life. Just like understanding the path from infancy to adulthood, every group needs to understand their awkward teenage stage and that their mid-life crisis is coming.

Steve Barker from InterVarsity maps out the group life cycle this way: Exploration, Transition, Action and Termination. In Exploration, the big issue is inclusion. Group members want to know that they fit in. They need to feel wanted and accepted.

Next is Transition, which is characterized by conflict. Hopefully, the end result of conflict is shared goals and objectives. This is the review and implimentation of your group agreement.

The third stage is Action. Once the group has agreed on the steps forward, now they have the freedom to act and move ahead together in ministry. The final stage is termination. This is the time to celebrate the time the group has enjoyed together.

The Group Life Cycle usually lasts about two years. Unless the group has made a concerted effort to invite and include new people in the group, most groups will stagnate and eventually fold at the two year mark. Rather than keeping a group limping along, it might be a good idea to plan when the group will end, then regroup and start over again.

While most of us are aware of groups that have lasted for decades, these tend to be the exception rather than the rule. The same leader might still be leading a group, but odds are that the group membership is quite different from where they began. There is nothing wrong with lifelong groups as long as they are bearing fruit.

4. Group Mission

The mission of the group is no different than the mission of the church: “Go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20). The goal of group life isn’t the comfort of the group members. The goal is to reach others for Christ and grow them up in the faith. And, that makes group members uncomfortable.

The issue groups face is that they develop close relationships over time and want to continue with the group members they are close to. The reality is that given the Group Life Cycle, most groups will stagnate or end after two years. If the group continues to invite and include new people, they can avoid this two year deadline. But, if the group continues to invite and include others, then the group will outgrow its meeting space, overload the leader, and bloat the discussion. These are good problems.

As soon as your group reaches eight people, sub-group. This will allow everyone to get their word in. This is also a great opportunity for an up and coming leader to get their feet wet by leading all or part of the discussion. Who? Since you have rotated leadership in your group, you have an idea of which members are on their way to leadership. Some will do a great job. Maybe they’re 75-80% there. Others will show some potential and might be 40-50% there. A few might need a lot of help.

John Maxwell said, “If someone can do the job 30% as well as you, give them the job.” The reality is the person can probably do it 60% as well, but we haven’t given them credit for it. As your group grows, sub-grouping is essential for discussion, group care, and leadership development. If your meeting place is big enough, keep growing the group. When the meeting situation becomes a problem for the whole group, then it’s time to figure out something else. Caution here: this will be a problem for the leader before it’s a problem for the group. Hang in there. When the group feels the need to change, change will come.

There are many other questions on the minds of new leaders, but this is a good summary of where to start. When you feel overwhelmed, pray and ask God for help. When you need training, seek out your coach. If you need a little information, check out the other posts on this blog.

Great Resources for Getting Groups Started:

Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen (Read my review here).

Connecting in Communities by Eddie Mosley (Read my review here).

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If It Ain’t Broke, Break It?

By Allen White

There is a reason you have the groups you currently do. They are working for somebody. Whether they are connected in Adult Bible Fellowships, Inductive Bible Studies, Sunday School break hammer(gasp…more on this later), or women addicted to Beth Moore groups, it’s working for them. As long as the groups aren’t worshiping the devil or talking bad about the pastor, leave them alone.

At Brookwood Church, we had a very large women’s group, about 200+, who met every Wednesday morning and called themselves WOW. They would meet in a large group setting to view teaching by Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Kay Arthur and others, then they broke into 17 different groups that met in the adjacent rooms. When it came time for a church-wide “campaign” with the group curriculum aligned with the weekend messages, I didn’t even ask the WOW women to participate. Why?

First, I didn’t need to enter into a fight that I wasn’t going to win. You can call me a wimp. I call it wise. Why volunteer for unnecessary trouble? Next, I knew if the WOW women did the church-wide study on Wednesday morning, I was giving their husbands an out. If the ladies were already doing the study, then more than likely, the men weren’t going to join a men’s group, and she wasn’t going to do the same study on the same week in a couples group.

By encouraging WOW to continue on their path of study, the ladies and their husbands also participated together in a couples group for the church-wide study. Not only were the men involved in groups, I got to count the women twice! Ok, not really, but you understand what I’m saying.

A day will come when group membership to a failing initiative will decrease. That is the time to consider a hard conversation about ending the group, class or ministry. But, as long as it’s helping someone, it’s worth keeping around. If you attempt to transition a ministry to quickly, you will upset its constituency, which could come back in many ways from reduced giving to personal “political” fall out. Don’t fight battles you can’t win or will greatly injure you. Be patient.

Why Do Pastors Long for a Magic Bullet?

If one strategy could connect every member in our church, if one model could work for everyone, it would be a pastor’s dream come true. Why? Because it’s efficient or dare I say, convenient. For busy pastors, it’s easier to manage one system, not three, four or five.

Your members are looking for variety, not uniformity. Look at how many car models were made last year. Look at how many new books appear on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. Look at how many ways you can drink coffee at Starbucks. The Blue Plate Special died 50 years ago.

What is a Small Group Anyway?

Why do you have small groups? Coolness is not the right answer. Merely forming small groups could contribute to more problems. Rather than individuals leaving the church, now they might leave linking arms. (Keep reading. It’s okay.) If groups offer care, encouragement, fellowship, Bible study and leadership development, can that only happen in a small group? What if a Sunday School class was accomplishing those things? What if your existing groups were already doing that? Isn’t this meeting your goal? Isn’t this building people up?

Do New Things with New People

Rather than forcing them into the existing model, discover what will work for them. Men don’t join groups for the same reasons as women. Younger generations are motivated differently than older generations. Some folks will join because they ought to. Others will see what’s in it for them. Still others will see a chance to make a difference together. And, some will think the whole thing is lame. That’s okay.

When new freshmen enter college, they are given a college catalog. The catalog delineates all of the requirements to graduate with a chosen degree. If the college chooses to change any of the requirements along the way, they do so with the incoming freshmen. They can’t make the changes with the upperclassmen. Their contract, if you will, was established during their freshman year.
Your existing groups are like the upperclassmen. They came in while you were doing groups, classes or Bible studies a certain way. While you can always invite them to try something new, you should refrain from making the change mandatory. Again, if you lose what you have for the sake of something new, you’re just being stupid. (Some take offense when I say this, “Are you calling me stupid?” I tell them, “No, because you’re not going to do that.”)

When we launched our groups for The Passion of the Christ at New Life years ago, we didn’t even tell our existing groups what we were doing. Partly because we were in a bit of a rush having decided to launch the groups only three weeks before the series started, but also because we already had the existing groups. We just needed to build on that.
My leaders came to me and asked, “Can our group do the Passion study or is it only for new groups?”

Being the kind, compassionate pastor I am, I said, “What’s it worth to you?” Nearly all of our existing groups participated in the study. They didn’t have to, but they wanted to. You attract more flies with honey…

One Size Does Not Fit All

When I arrived at Brookwood Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina, about 30 percent of the adults were in groups. It was a solid foundation. We had on-campus groups, off-campus groups, Beth Moore Bible study groups, and the Holy Smokers, who focused on Bible and barbecue. Remember them? We launched lots of new groups through church-wide campaigns. We connected hundreds of new folks to groups. We gained another 30 percent in groups. Sixty percent ain’t bad.

But, as I became better acquainted with the congregation, I discovered that some in the Bible belt really were intimidated by the Bible. They resisted small groups because they were afraid they would have nothing to contribute to the discussion. Whoa. In California, we just asked folks to do a study with their friends. They did it. But, this was a whole other deal.
We created large groups for men, women, young couples, business people, law enforcement, and senior adults. These are what Carl George calls “fishing ponds.” In these large groups people could move from the crowd of a 2,500 seat auditorium to a living room of a few friends, old or new.

We offered a solid recreation ministry for adults and children. We created a system of classes called BrookwoodU where people could get to know each other while they learned cooking, digital photography, leadership, Microsoft Word, sign language and even Hermeneutics. (Many friendships were forged in their hermeneutical fox holes.)

I didn’t join the staff of a megachurch to start classes or to send seniors to Branson, Missouri. But, those not connected into groups didn’t necessarily care about what I wanted. What did they need?

After four years, we reached 78 percent of our, then, 5,000 adults connected in small groups, large groups, and BrookwoodU. We didn’t get to 100 percent, but maybe someone else can take them there in the future.

You wouldn’t transition small groups to a Sunday School model, would you? Build on what’s working. Then, figure out what you can add to that. And, for the pastor on that webcast, I wish you well.

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The Role of a Coach

By Allen White

By now most small group pastors and directors understand coaches are essential to sustain and support small group leaders. While everyone will agree to the necessity of coaches, most don’t know what to do with coaches, and unfortunately, most coaches don’t know what to do period. Beautiful org charts in a lot of churches actually net zero results. Here are some tips to moving your coaches in the right direction:

1.       Coaches Aren’t Accountants.

The problem with most accountability in Christian circles is that it becomes too much like accounting. Unlike Santa Claus, coaches do not relish keeping a naughty or nice list. What’s more, group leaders don’t appreciate being supervised by a supervisor. This doesn’t mean we throw caution to the wind, but we also don’t put a cruel task master over small group leaders. After all, “love keeps no record of wrongs,” right? (1 Corinthians 13:5). Read more on accountability that works here.

2.       Coaches Aren’t Middle Managers, Bureaucrats or Spies.

Years ago, Carol, one of my coaches, complained to me, “I feel like I’m your spy.” At that point, I was still recruiting and training all of the group leaders myself. Carol and the other coaches were sent out to visit the groups and report back what they saw. No wonder she felt that way.

In recruiting coaches, we work hard to select mature, capable people to serve with us. Then, often because we don’t have the coaching role figured out ourselves, we tend to micromanage them as if they are neither mature nor capable. I didn’t keep many coaches that way.

The key is to elevate the role of coaching. When I chose coaches the next time around, I invited capable, mature people to join me in a journey. We met every week for dinner and to talk about the direction of our small groups. I committed to never make a decision about our small groups outside of that meeting. We led together.

These folks aren’t underachievers who need our constant motivation. These aren’t people who are prone to wander and need a steady reminder of direction. If they are, then they shouldn’t be coaching groups. If they’re not, then they deserve more respect than a place in our little bureaucracy.

3.       The Role of the Coach is to Refocus the Player.

My friend and mentor, Carl George has drilled this phrase into my psyche. When you think about a coach in sports, he stands at the sidelines and guides his players. If the last play went terribly wrong, his job is to refocus the players on the next play. They can’t replay the last play on the field. But, if a bad play keeps replaying in the players’ minds, then the next play will also suffer.

Small group leaders have busy lives and are pulled in many different directions. On a particularly hectic day or difficult season, it’s easy for leaders to become discouraged and wonder why they ever got into this business in the first place. The relationship with the coach is key to maintaining momentum in groups. The coach is not making sure the job gets done. The coach is making sure the player is okay.

4.       Give Your Leaders the Space to See What God is Doing

The most valuable function of a coach is giving a small group leader an opportunity  to reflect on what God is doing in his or her group. Most would admit to the difficulty of working “in” something and “on” something at the same time. It’s nearly impossible. Often group leaders are working so hard in the group, they don’t see the big picture of what God is doing.

By setting aside an hour or so once every quarter, a coach can give group leaders the space they need to see what God is doing and to identify what is next. This is as simple as the coach asking the leaders to list the names of their group members, then asking them to talk about what God is doing in each person’s life. As the leaders discuss their members, the logical next steps will begin to surface for the leader.

Bob – Hasn’t been around for a while. I need to give him a call.

Joe – Struggling at his job. I need to pray for him and give him some encouragement outside of the group.

Steve – Lost his job. I need to check-in with him and see if there’s any way the group can help.

Tony – Making poor choices. I need to pray for him and for the right timing to have a tough conversation.

Brett – Shows strong leadership potential. I need to give him more responsibilities in the group and eventually invite him to co-lead with me.

You get the idea. The coach must approach this conversation as a learner, not as an instructor. It would be easy to quickly diagnose each member and offer next steps, but the next steps determined by the group leader will be the next steps that are actually executed.

To make this work, start with a few assumptions. Assumption #1: Group leaders have made themselves available to God, and God is using them in their group. If a group leader is going through a hard time, he may be wondering if God is doing anything at all. He needs encouragement. But, some group leaders so naturally use their gifts, they might not even realize how gifted they are. They also need a coach’s insight.

Assumption #2: Who you are as a coach is more significant than what you could every say to a group leader. Your relationship with your group leaders is the greatest gift you can offer them. When relationship comes first, tasks get accomplished. Without relationship, leaders easily burn out.

5.       Small Group Pastors: Get Out of Your Coach’s Way

How many Team Owners or General Managers have made their coaches’ lives miserable? Small Group Pastors and Directors, like their coaches, should approach their roles as learners, not drill sergeants. God wants to use your coaches. Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle to effective coaching is often a well-meaning Small Groups Pastor.

While you cannot give away the responsibility for the ministry, empowered coaches are effective coaches. Disempowered coaches become burned out middle managers. Your expectation of your coaches should be clear, reasonable and accountable. But, again, don’t approach accountability as an accountant. Give your coaches the benefit of the doubt: “How are your groups doing?” not “Have you followed up on your groups lately?” If your coaching system is in disarray, then you’re probably in the way.

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What If Father Abraham is in Your Group?

By Allen White abraham

Do you have a group member who tends to get along with everyone else? They don’t rock the boat, and certainly don’t tip the boat over. They are loyal and steady. You can always count on them. Yet, you don’t always know what’s going on inside of them, because they wouldn’t want to trouble you with that. The group member we call the Peacekeeper.

In this series of posts, we are looking at the different personality types of group members and how they affect the dynamics of groups. Based on Vicki Barnes book, The Real You, we have identified four core types: the Producer, the Planner, the Promoter, and today will will consider the Peacekeeper.

We see Peacekeeper behavior in several people in Scripture. The Apostle John would certainly fit in this category. He was the disciple whom Jesus loved. John had a warm that resonated with others. He also took the longest to write his Gospel. While Matthew, Mark (writing for Peter), and Luke put our there Gospels in the first half of the first century (give or take), John’s Gospel didn’t appear until nearly the end of the first century. (Scholars can debate away, but this is what they taught me in Bible college).

Another example of Peacekeeper behavior is Abraham, formerly known as Abram. When Abraham had to go down to Egypt as recorded in Genesis 12, he was worried the Egyptians couldn’t resist Sarah for her beauty and would kill him to get her. Abraham instructed Sarah, “Hey, let’s not make any waves in Egypt. Instead of telling them you are my wife, just say that you are my sister instead.” Sarah went along. Now, this caused quite a bit of trouble later in the story when the Egyptians found out the truth. But, Abraham saved his neck.

When Abraham and Lot were living together with all of their families and herds, it became clear they needed more space. Rather than telling Lot where to move his family and herds, Abraham gave Lot a choice. Of course, Lot chose the best land. Abraham, being more passive, really didn’t care which land he had as long as Lot was happy.

Now, none of us are limited to our core personalities. Abraham’s faith grew. God declared Abraham to be the father of many nations. When God called Abraham to take Isaac to the mountain and sacrifice him, there was no hemming and hawing. The next morning, they got up and went.

The Peacekeeper shows mercy and compassion. They are more likely to see all sides of an argument. Now, by seeing all sides, they sometimes have trouble taking sides or making a decision. I have a dear friend who asked me what color she should change her carpet to. I later found out she had been asking this question for more than a decade. The last time I visited her and her husband, they had moved to a different house. I said, “Well, you didn’t need to change the carpet after all.” Being a Peacekeeper, her response was, “Oh, Allen.” If she’d been a Producer, the carpet would have been changed immediately, and she would have knocked my block off for saying something like that. If she had been a Planner, she would have studied carpet types carefully, and the science behind mood and its relation to color. If she had been a Promoter, she would have chosen whatever bright color she felt like.

Peacekeepers are natural mediators. They are slow to form a prejudicial decision. When Producers like me want to fire up their bulldozer and “git ‘r done,” the Peacekeepers are a good people to check in with before the Producers start running over everybody.

Quite a few years back, another dear friend of mine and I were choosing a restaurant to take a group of seniors to up in the Mother Lode near Sonora, California. There was an Italian restaurant there I had been wanting to try, but my dear Peacekeeper friend suggested something else. It was more of a coffee shop with an extensive menu. We went her way. At one point in the meal with about 40 of us gathered around a huge table, I heard her say quietly, “Isn’t this nice. Everyone found something they really liked.” She was a Peacekeeper extraordinaire.

While Peacekeepers are great listeners and mediators, they can be easily overwhelmed, yet they won’t let you on to that. They may appear calm on the outside, but you may be rocking their boat like crazy on the inside.

When it’s all said and done, we should all strive to be more like the Peacekeeper. In fact, as we mature and grow as a person, all four of these personality types should even out in our lives. But, only if we grow.

 

Read more from this series:

Planner: What if Dr. Luke Was in My Group?

Producer: What if the Apostle Paul Was in My Group?

Promoter: What if the Apostle Peter Was in My Group?

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Accountability that Works

By Allen White

When your group members ask for accountability, there are right ways and wrong ways to offer it. Some accountability comes across as coaching and encouraging. Other efforts at accountability seem condescending and defeating. Here are some things to consider in setting up accountability with others:

1.       How does accountability work?

Accountability fails when it’s conducted by an accountant. “Your goal was to exercise four times last week, but you only exercised two times. Now, you need to repent and pledge to do better next week.” Yikes! Sounds like they’ll be skipping the next accountability meeting too.

The Bible tells us that “love keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5). If the purpose of accountability is to confront the person with their failures, it’s a failure. The nature of accountability can’t be merely a ledger recording wins and loses.

Accountability works when it’s more like coaching and less score keeping. If the member only got two workouts in this week, then the response should be: “Good, you got two in. What kept you from doing all four? How did you feel after your workouts? How did you feel when you skipped your workout? How can I help you this next week?” What are the reasons behind the success or failure? What motivates them? What demotivates them? Everybody is motivated by different things.

Accountability partners need to know that you have their best interest at heart. Your prayers are significant. Your short voice mail messages or texts or tweets can encourage them daily. But, encouragement should be given in appropriate doses otherwise it can seem like a backhanded rebuke.

2.       Who should provide accountability?

While as the group leader, you should have an accountability partner, especially if you are advocating accountability. But, the group leader shouldn’t have more than a couple accountability relationships himself. “But, the group has never done this. What if they don’t do it right?” Okay, Moses, read Exodus 18 and take a breath.

The group leader can coach the group on providing and receiving accountability. But, there is no way to maintain an accountability relationship with every person in your group, and it’s not healthy either. Ideally, group members should be matched with someone who has a measure of victory in the area they are holding another accountable for. This just makes sense.

Who do you want coaching you on weight loss – the guy who lost 80 pounds in the last year or the guy who would like to? You want the guy who has succeeded.

If someone wants to get up at 5:30 every morning to start a quiet time, they need someone who is up at that hour to give them a wakeup call for a while. (By the way, 5:30 pm is just as spiritual as 5:30 am – just sayin’).

Your group might not even want to use the term “accountability partner.” For several years, my group had “prayer partners.” Two of us got together every other week to pray for each other. There was some checking in involved in the process, but it didn’t feel like a pop quiz.

Done the right way, accountability can be a good tool to strengthen your group and deepen their relationships with each other and with God. As long as you keep the “Why” ahead of the “What,” your group could be well served with this.

Related Article: How Do I Make My Group Members Accountable?

Recommended Reading:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink (Read my review here).

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Van Dyke Church Case Study: From Fundamentals to Phenomenal

By Allen White

“I’m a great believer that everything happens for a reason,” a new member writes, “God sees that I’m seeking Him. Having just moved from out of state and not knowing where to go to church–  to Van Dyke Church a place where I can find comfort — has been a challenge.  You were able to bring it to me here at work, God knows that I’m seeking Him and need Him close in my heart. Not only for me but for my son! Again thank you, I felt great after yesterday’s gathering.”

This man recently joined a workplace group started by a member of Van Dyke Church, Lutz, Florida. The host leader took it on himself to bring the church’s current series and small group study to his workplace. The church staff was so excited. They announced publicly that he already had 20 group members. He only had 10 at the time. Then, he called to say he had 14. He isn’t finished yet. Maybe the platform gaff was actually a self-fulfilling prophecy

Van Dyke United Methodist Church is a 25 year old church in Tampa, Florida pastored by Matthew Hartsfield, who has lead them for 18 of those years. As of this writing, their weekend adult attendance averages 1,800. Three weeks ago, they had 39 home groups with approximately 400 group members. That was three weeks ago. Today, everything has changed.

Align the Weekend Service with a Curriculum

What started as a strong Fall series called Q&A quickly morphed into a discipleship and evangelistic tool placed in the hands of Van Dyke’s members. Pastor Matthew had crafted a series to answer life’s big questions, such as: What is God’s Will for My Life? Why are there so Many Different Religions? and What Happens the Minute After You Die? The weekly messages definitely had a broad appeal. The congregation would be eager to bring their friends to the weekend series. Then, Pastor Matthew created a tool to take the message to the community.

With just four weeks until the series launch, Pastor Matthew with the Van Dyke team created an easy to use DVD-based curriculum in partnership with Lifetogether. In one day, they shot six teaching segments, six session intros, and six leadership training segments. That’s a lot for one day.

In the next 10 days, Lynne Fukutani and Rob Rose used the Lifetogether template to create a complete six-week study guide. In addition to great discussion questions, they included the support and training any new leader would need to start their group. They were off to print.

Recruit an Unlimited Number of Leaders

The day after the shoot, Pastor Matthew engaged in a crucial next step conversation. The video was recorded. Now what? On the next two Sundays, he challenged the entire congregation to host a group in their homes. With a little tongue in cheek humor, he assured his members that “All you need to do is push play and brew a pot of coffee.” In two weeks, 63 new host homes (and host workplaces) were created. From an established base of 39 groups, Van Dyke Church now boasted 103 groups in just two weeks time. And, they’re just getting started.

Support New Leaders with a Coach

The success of new hosts and leaders depends on the encouragement of a coach. Three weeks ago, Van Dyke Church had only one staff member who coached all of the groups. This system was quickly overwhelmed – not to mention the staff member.

We challenged key staff members to think of the influencers in the congregation. Brett Eastman calls them the “E.F. Hutton’s.” (Brett’s getting a little old.) In a matter of 15 minutes, Pastor Matthew and his staff had cherry picked the top candidates in their congregation. Then, the pastor picked up the phone and invited these influential folks to help the new group hosts for the six weeks of the campaign.

They pulled the new coaches together for a 45 minute huddle and outlined the expectations: (1) Call the new host once a week. (2) Answer their questions. (3) Pray for them. They agreed. As soon as the coach meeting ended, the new hosts filed in for a host rally.

We built up the curriculum, built up the team, and built up the church. Then, we introduced the new hosts to some very important people who would help them get their group started – their coaches. A little less awkward than the junior high dance, each new host was paired with a coach. They talked briefly, exchanged contact information, and they were ready to start.

Connect the Congregation into Community

Immediately after each weekend service over the next two weekends, the new hosts were arranged in the church lobby by city and zip code. As prospective group members filed out of the services, they met a group host who lived near them and signed up for their group for the six weeks. While most group prospects found a group to join, a few were lost in the shuffle.

The coaches and church staff were on-hand to direct these lost sheep into the right place. By the end of the first weekend, Van Dyke Church had nearly doubled their group participation. By the second weekend, they were close to tripling that number. Their group members had grown from 400 to right around 1,000 in groups. And, new people are being added daily.

One Size Does Not Fit All

In connecting their congregation into groups, Van Dyke Church leveraged existing groups, formed new host homes, created “family and friends” groups, and marched off the map of what was known as group life in their church. They even discovered a few groups who were meeting under the radar, but identified themselves for this series.

Now, they are tackling the last 30 percent – the independent, the introverted and the isolated (Read more about these groups here). Rather than arranging another week of small group connection in the lobby, the Van Dyke team is giving away DVDs and books to anyone who will do the study with two or three friends. These off-the-record groups will accommodate folks whose schedule doesn’t fit with a typical group. Introverted people can do the study with the friends they already have rather than face a group of relative strangers. Independent folks, well, they can do whatever they want within reason.

Let’s Go International

Lynne Fukutani, VDC’s small group director,  already posts a weekly discussion guide on Van Dyke’s website called the AfterWord. This is available for any group or individual to apply the weekend message in a practical way. Participants in the church’s internet campus viewed the messages from near and far, then downloaded the AfterWord for study and discussion. Who said a Bible study had to come in a book? This led to another question.

Who said a teaching video had to come on a DVD? By uploading the teaching videos to their site, the staff now embeds the video on the AfterWord page of their website. Now, anyone can study along with Pastor Matthew in the Q&A series at no cost to the church or the participant.

Four Weeks Later

What started as a pastor with an interesting sermon series led to the multiplication of those messages through group curriculum and online resources. A pastor who believed in small groups became the champion for groups in his church and increased their group leaders by nearly 200 percent. Faithful members, who have studied God’s Word for years, got their gifts in the game by opening up their homes. And, members, who sometimes got lost in the shuffle after the service, are connected into community by the hundreds. This was just the beginning of the Van Dyke story. By the end of their third series in that ministry year (Fall launch, New Year’s Launch, Easter Launch), they had connect 2,000 adults into groups with only 1,800 in their weekend adult attendance.

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What If the Apostle Peter Was in Your Group?

By Allen White

Have you ever had a group member who just exuded enthusiasm and ADD? Did they chase rabbit trails and pull thoughts out of left field during the Peter_walks_on_water_toward_Jesus_0discussion? You may have a Promoter in your group.

We see classic Promoter behavior in the Apostle Peter. Impetuous and sometimes flaky, Peter was the only one who jumped out of the boat at Jesus’ invitation to walk on water. When Jesus announced his coming death, Peter rebuked Jesus, “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” to which Jesus rebuked him right back, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:22-23). When the soldiers came to take Jesus in the Garden, Peter drew his sword and cut Malchus’ ear, which Jesus quickly healed. Then, in the temple court, before the cock crowed three times, Peter denied Jesus. Yet there was another side to Peter’s brass enthusiasm.

On the day of Pentecost, when the crowd thought the 120 in the upper room were drunk, it was Peter who stood up and explained, “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel…” (Acts 2:14-16). Peter’s off the cuff proclamation that day resulted in 3,000 people being added to their number. There was no time to prepare a sermon. There was no time to create an outline. There was only time for a disciple empowered by God’s Spirit to open his mouth and be willing to speak. This time Peter got it right.

In this series of posts, we are looking at the different personality types of group members and how they affect the dynamics of groups. Based on Vicki Barnes book, The Real You, we have identified four core types: the Producer, the Planner, the Peacekeeper, and today will will consider the Promoter.

The Promoter is the life of the party. In fact, a Promoter’s motto could be “If you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with.” Now, before you take that thought too far, what I mean is a Promoter can have a great time with family and friends, but can also have a great time standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Promoters have never met a stranger and are easy to like.

They have an idea a minute, which lends to their ADD temperament. Promoters are great starters, but poor finishers. After all, how can you take something to completion if you have an idea a minute. Before one thing is even half completed, they are chasing their next idea!

Promoters are great for adding enthusiasm to a group, rallying the troops, and recruiting new members. Promoters are not so great at staying on task, starting or ending on time, or maybe even remembering they are leading on a particular week. But, if you take a Promoter’s idea, pass it on to a Producer to execute, then add a Planner’s eye for detail with the Peacekeeper checking in with everyone, your group can be a great team.

Be selective about what you delegate to a Promoter. You will see them as flaky, and they will feel frustrated. But, put them in their sweet spot of brainstorming and encouraging, and then you’ve got something.

Read More About Why Your Group Members Might Bug You

Planner: What if Dr. Luke Was in My Group?

Producer: What if the Apostle Paul Was in My Group?

Peacekeeper: What if Father Abraham Was in My Group?

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How Do I Make My Group Members Accountable?

By Allen White

Okay, let’s rethink the question a little bit, then we can tackle the issue. Forced accountability is less like having a spiritual coach and more like having a probation officer. Since most group members aren’t working hard to avoid incarceration, making group members accountable is a failed enterprise. The title of that book would be “How to Lose Friends and Frustrate People.” I don’t think that’s what you have in mind. Here are some things to consider in developing group member accountability:

1.       Why do you feel your group members need accountability?

Either accountability works well for you or you’ve heard that it does. Whether you’re starting a new habit or forsaking a bad habit, the help and encouragement of another believer can be a great support and motivator. If your group members are asking for accountability, that is a beautiful thing. If you think your group members need accountability that they’re not currently seeking, well, that’s a whole other deal. Proceed with caution, unless you are exercising your gift of martyrdom on this one.

Think about what led you to see accountability was a good thing for you. More than likely, this was a process for you. It wasn’t a gut reaction. You thought about how accountability could help you. You thought about what would work for you. You thought about who would coach you. It took a little time. Your group members probably aren’t there yet.

Give them insights into how accountability has helped you, before you pop the question. Just casually bring up accountability during the group meeting. You might even start with a praise during the group’s worship or prayer time, “I am thankful for my accountability partner. This relationship has really helped me maintain (a consistent quiet time or kept me in the gym or whatever it was.)” You have to show them on the value of accountability.

“But, this will be good for them. We need to just get started.” Imposing accountability on unwilling group members will backfire in a big way. It will be about as popular as the brussel sprouts you serve instead of brownies at your next meeting. Your group members want to grow spiritually. You have found a tool that will help them get there. Now, you have to give them the “Why?”  and not just impose the “What.”

2.       What accountability is your group open to?

Every believer is at a different place in their spiritual journey. In fact, no two believers walk identical paths. While Jesus is the only way to Heaven, each person’s background, wounds, victories, personality, gifts and passions are very different. What works for one will not necessarily work as well for everyone else. One size does not fit all.

The only accountability that works is the accountability that your group members actually want. They may very well want to forsake a bad habit or develop a good one. Accountability may be the perfect tool to get them there. But, only if they ask for it.

Once your group members have bought into the concept of accountability, there is nothing wrong with asking the group members what they would like accountability for.

3.       What accountability has the group agreed to?

Your group has already agreed to some things that require accountability. Your small group agreement outlines each member’s responsibility to the group. If your agreement puts responsibility on your members to let the group know when they can’t make a meeting, then they have consented to accountability in that area. The same with the other areas of agreement: confidentiality, active listening, etc. If someone violates something in the group agreement, then you should definitely ask them about why they broke one of the ground rules for the group.

Tomorrow’s Post: Accountability that Works

Recommended Reading:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink (Read my review here).

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Twice as Many Group Members as Church Members? This Church Did It

By Allen White

In partnership with Greg Hawkins, our team created a Pathway series for churches who wanted to draw their members into greater intimacy with God. Drawing from the work Greg and the Lutheran Church of the AtonementREVEAL team conducted when he served as Executive Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL, We created a three part study based on the well-documented principles of REVEAL. The idea was to create a framework for any pastor to customize the series for their local church.

Pastor Don Wink, The Lutheran Church of the Atonement, Barrington, IL, came to us wanting this exact series. He wanted to see the 300 adult members of his ELCA congregation draw closer to God and to form an on-going small group ministry there.

Don along with his staff pastors and volunteers shot all 18 complete sessions including teaching, host introductions, testimonies, and leader training in a two day shoot at their church. All of the sessions were both scripted and personalized for their team and their church.

The Atonement team revised the original study guide manuscript to fit the language and culture of their church. This included a personal introduction from the pastor along with hundreds of photos representing church life. Our team compiled all of these materials and designed full color study guides to go along with the series.

The first study in the series, Faith, was launched in Fall 2014. Pastor Don and his groups team challenged their congregation to fully participate in the series by gathering their friends in their homes for not just a six week study, but a year of transformation! Don held interest meetings with stakeholders both in his home and at the church. He also made an invitation to the entire congregation. Group hosts attended briefings where they received their marching orders and materials.

The church had duplicated 600 copies of their study guide. When the dust had settled, this church of 300 adults had distributed 580 study guides. But, the story gets even better.

In January 2015, the second installment of the Year of Transformation series was launch, Hope. All of Atonement’s current groups continued except for one group. Not only that, all of the existing groups added members for the second study. This continuation was far more exciting than the original launch.

What could your church do?

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