By Allen White
You can’t have groups without leaders. Let’s face it, if you have a bunch of people interested in joining groups, you may or may not have groups. But, if you have a leader, you’ll have a group. Where do the leaders come from? There are several schools of thought on how and who to recruit. There is not a right or wrong for this. The method you choose depends on how many people you have to connect into groups, how quickly you want to connect them, and how big of a risk you are willing to take.
High Requirements and Incremental Growth
In this method, prospective leaders must meet certain requirements and complete comprehensive training before they lead groups. Some churches will even ask prospective group leaders to co-lead or apprentice with an experienced leader for a certain period of time before they are commissioned to lead their own group.
The benefit of this method is small group pastors/directors feel they know the prospective leaders better before they are invited to lead. Also, the pastors and staff may feel the leader is better prepared by completing comprehensive training prior to leading a group.
In order to recruit leaders, either the small group pastor will need to personally recruit prospective leaders for the training process or take nominations from other group leaders about prospects in their groups. The number of leaders recruited will depend on how many people are recruiting and how well the recruiters know the church members. As the church grows this becomes a more difficult task.
From my experience using this method is very slow going in offering new groups. If your church is large or is rapidly growing, this method will leave you in the weeds very quickly, especially if your church doesn’t offer much else beyond the weekend worship service. I personally handpicked leaders for seven years and ended up with 30 percent of our average adult attendance in groups. The recruits joined a six week training group with the purpose of launching all of the members as small group leaders. Some years we started 10 new groups. One year we started two groups. One year we started zero groups, even though the prospects completed the training. Then, we got stuck and couldn’t grow further.
Fortunately, there were some lessons learned. First, the invitation was to lead a group basically for the rest of their lives. This was too much of a commitment. Secondly, I didn’t know everybody in the church, so there were a lot of great prospects being overlooked because I had never met them. Third, I felt I needed to maintain control over the groups and the leaders to make sure we didn’t have a bunch of problems, which turned out to be our biggest problem. I had become the bottleneck for leadership.
A few positives in this method are certainly worth keeping. Most people do not regard themselves as being any kind of a leader. For the small group pastor, a staff member, or a group leader to say, “I think you have what it takes to lead a group,” is huge in people’s lives. Many people who don’t regard themselves as leaders would make great leaders, they just need someone to call that out of them. Those personal conversations won’t get all of the leaders you need, but they will make a significant impact on the life of the potential leader.
Then, there’s the term “leader.” We should be hesitant to call someone a leader. Whether that means someone must meet the qualifications and fulfill the training requirements before they are designated “leader,” or if they start a group with their friends, no one should be designated as a leader until they’ve proven themselves. In 1 Timothy 5:22, Paul instructs his apprentice, Timothy, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands.” No matter how people have entered your leadership pipeline, wait and see how God uses them and gifts them before you give them the title of leader.
Low Requirements and Rapid Growth
After being stuck with 30 percent in groups after seven years of using the first method, my pastor and I decided to do something different. We created our own video-based curriculum, so the group meetings would be easy to prepare and lead. Rather than handpicking leaders, my pastor made a public invitation in the service that went something like this: “We’ve prepared video curriculum materials for you. If you would be interested in opening your home to host a group, then we will help you get the group started.” With that invitation, we doubled our groups in one day. And, I got out of the recruiting business permanently.
Every church must choose their own acceptable level of risk in “lowering the bar.” I don’t even like that term any more. I’d rather say “delaying the requirements.” For some churches, anyone who is willing to lead a group is qualified to lead a short-term group. (I prefer not to advertise these). For other churches, the recruit must be a member, complete Growth Track, provide references, or be interviewed. Choose the acceptable level of risk that’s appropriate for your group. For more on this, see Chapter 3 of Exponential Groups.
Once people said “yes” to my pastor’s invitation, we brought them into a briefing to give them a start on how to gather and lead their group. Eventually at the briefings, we introduced them to an experience leader who would walk alongside them for the six week series. For us, by providing the curriculum, we knew what was being taught in the groups, and by offering a coach, we knew what was going on. This gave us more on-going reassurance of quality groups than we had ever had.
The number of new groups you start this way is limited only by the number of people who attend your church. Every person in your church could do a Bible study with their friends. I know you’re immediately thinking of who you don’t want to start a group. Let the exceptions be the exceptions. Only 2 percent or less will be a problem. The other 98 percent will do a great job.
In the first church I served, we quickly reached 125 percent of our average adult attendance in groups. Now, compare that to 30 percent in groups after seven years of doing it the other way. We had 1,000 people in groups and 800 on the weekend. In the second church I served, we had about 4,000 of our 5,000 regular attenders in groups. (That church offered a LOT of other options to our adults).
While there is more risk in this method, there is also more reward. Like I said at the beginning, you can go either way. Neither is wrong. It all depends on how much time you have to get everybody in a group. If you have months, then the second method is the way to go. If you have years, then the first method is fine. If you’re not sure, then run a pilot with a few groups and see what works.
Requirements and training should never go away permanently. If you “lower the bar,” remember you must eventually “raise the bar.” In the first one to three years, most churches can get their entire congregations connected. After that window passes, you must up the ante for groups. Qualify “unqualified” leaders. Create a discipleship pathway. Offer more mature topics in addition to felt need topics.
It’s up to you. What are you willing to risk? If you go too fast, you might be embarrassed or blamed. But, if you go to slow, you can miss out on some great leaders and an opportunity to disciple your members. What are you willing to try?
By Allen White
A major factor in a successful group launch is the leadership of the senior pastor. As the leader of the congregation, when the senior pastor points the direction, the members will follow. In the two churches I served, we reached over 125 percent of our average adult attendance with our senior pastor leading the way at New Life in Califonia. In the other church, Brookwood Church in South Carolina, we launched 400 new groups with the pastor’s leadership (We had 30 percent of 5,000 people in groups to start). I have not personally recruited a group leader since 2004. But, how do you get your senior pastor more interested in groups?
Align Groups with Where Your Pastor is Going
Many small group pastors are frustrated with their senior pastors. Maybe you are one of them. I’ve heard complaints like, “I just can’t get my pastor on board with groups.” After serving as an Associate Pastor for most of my 28 years in ministry, let me give you a little insight here – It’s your pastor’s boat. That’s the boat you need to get on. Now, where is that boat headed?
What is your senior pastor talking about? Where is your pastor’s heart? Whether it’s outreach and evangelism, a capital campaign, or something else, when you align groups with where your pastor is going, you will make far more progress than complaining about your pastor not going where you want him/her to go.
After being stuck at 30 percent at New Life after seven years of handpicking leaders, I finally got a clue and listened to where my pastor was headed. Back in 2004, he was excited about The Passion of the Christ. He had already planned a sermon series, because he knew people would have spiritual questions after they watched the movie. When I asked him about launching groups along with The Passion series, he gave an enthusiastic “Yes!” Your best ideas are your pastor’s ideas. Hitch your wagon to that horse.
Create Video-based Curriculum with Your Pastor’s Teaching
Your congregation wants to hear your pastor’s teaching more than any other teacher, even nationally known pastors. When you offer a study based on your pastor’s teaching, your people will become very enthusiastic about it. But, this gets even better.
Not only will your pastor show interest in seeing his weekend teaching go into the week through a small group curriculum, once your pastor has created the videos, he/she will become very interested in recruiting new group leaders and starting new groups.
This was the case at Bay Hope Church in Florida. After a day of shooting video for the church’s upcoming alignment series, the next morning the pastor pulled us into his office. “Now that we’ve shot this video and are creating curriculum, how are we going to get leaders for the groups? How are we going to get people into groups?”
Their Discipleship Pastor came to me later in the day and said, “I’ve been trying to get my pastor interested in groups for two years, and you just did it!” It was practically an accusation.
I just smiled and said, “Well, I’m Allen White.” No, I did not. Once their pastor had made an investment in developing curriculum, he was very interested in seeing people use it. When we handed him talking points each week, he recruited leaders like never before. After three similar campaigns in a single ministry year, the church had over 2,000 people in groups and yet only 1,800 people in their weekend services.
Six 10 minute videos for a six week series will do a lot to motivate both your pastor and your congregation into forming groups. You can do this with a professional crew, a wedding videographer, or an iPhone. Your pastor’s teaching is the draw.
Find Small Group Answers to Your Pastor’s Concerns
What keeps your pastor up at night? What does he/she worry about? A lot of pastors are concerned over reaching their communities, fundraising and general giving, getting people connected, helping them grow in their faith, serving in the community among other things.
How can groups help your pastor reach these objectives? Research shows that people in groups are better connected, grow more, serve more, give more, and reach more than people who are not in groups.* Who wouldn’t want that for their church?
What are your pastor’s greatest concerns? How can groups serve to address those issues?
President Ronald Reagan had a quote displayed on his desk that read, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” I think this is a good motto for any pastor who works for a senior pastor. How can you help your senior pastor win? And, of course, if your pastor wins, then you also win.
*Transformational Groups by Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger (B&H, 2014) and Sharing the Journey by Robert Wuthnow (The Free Press, 1994).
By Allen White
As you’re about to take a sigh of relief at the end of a ministry year, planning a successful Fall launch begins now. This doesn’t mean you will work all Summer on the Fall launch, but it does mean getting some plans into place to recruit more leaders, form more groups, and keep those groups going. In order to start more groups than you ever have, you need to reevaluate a few things now.
Engage Your Senior Pastor
The Senior Pastor is the #1 recruiter for groups. In the churches I’ve served, when I gave my senior pastor the same script that I would have used, the results were typically 3 times better than if I had said the same thing. How do I know? I recruited leaders myself for seven years and was able to connect 30 percent of our congregation into groups. When my pastor made the same invitation, we doubled our groups in one day. Within six months, 125 percent of our congregation was connected into groups. Did I mention that it took me seven years working alone to get to 30 percent in groups? Not only did we connect more people into groups than attended our weekend service, we turned around and did it again the next year.
Think about this, if your pastor has lead the church for more than a few years, the reason most people attend, other than Jesus, is because of your senior pastor. They enjoy his teaching. They laugh at her jokes. They follow his leadership. Now a word of caution: don’t mention this to your worship pastors. It will break their hearts. When your pastor stands up and makes the invitation, people will listen and respond.
What if you senior pastor is not interested in groups or sees groups as one of many options in the church? Look for next week’s post.
Change Your Recruiting Methods
How are you currently recruiting group leaders? What do you require for someone to lead? What I have discovered is most people don’t see themselves as leaders. When you ask them to lead a group, they will probably turn you down. I’ve even convinced people to go through the group leader training, and then they turned me down.
A trial run, like a church-wide campaign or alignment series, is a great way to help prospective leaders take a test drive with groups. Once they’ve had the experience of starting and leading a group at least 80 percent will continue.
Here’s the dilemma: in order for most people to agree to the trial run, you have to make it easy, accessible, and short-term. I used to basically recruit leaders for the rest of their lives. That’s really too much to ask. But, six weeks is a good start.
The opportunity must also be easy and accessible. A video-based curriculum makes it easy. There is little preparation time, and the new leaders don’t need to be experts. They just need to have friends. We also must wave some of our requirements for these six week groups. I used to say, “lower the bar,” but then I discovered some churches would lower the bar, but never raise it back up. The end goal is to develop leaders who can make disciples, lead a Bible discussion, and mature in their own lives and leadership. But, to start they need to see if they even like leading a group. Delay the requirements temporarily, then bring them back at the right time.
Reconsider How Groups are Formed
Relational approaches to group formation are far more effective than task-based approaches. Sign up cards, websites, and group directories are efficient, but they are not effective in creating long lasting groups.
Start with the relationships the new leader already has. Among their friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and others, who would be interested in the group’s topic? After praying over a list of potential group members, the new leaders should invite them. Then, the people they invite should invite others.
If you’re church is experiencing rapid growth or high turnover, then chances are potential new leaders might not know who to invite or prospective members might not get an invitation to a group. If they’ve been in town for any length of time, they might know a few neighbors or co-workers they could do the study with. Don’t be shy about asking them to lead a short-term group. If they would prefer just to join a group, then create an environment where prospective members can meet new group leaders face to face. This way they will have a sense of who the leaders are and choose the group they want to join.
As a last resort, if a handful of people contact the church office and need to be placed into a group, then find a group for them. If it’s more than a handful, then you have an epidemic. Don’t revert back to task-oriented approaches. Get the prospective members and leaders in the same room.
Rethink your approach to forming groups. You will find more relationally-based approaches will help you to form lasting groups.
Announce Your Fall Campaign This Week!
If new groups formed this Spring or after Easter, give them something to look forward to. All you need is a start date and a topic (or just a start date if your pastor doesn’t plan that far ahead). The groups can meet socially over the Summer. Do a service project together. Even do another study. They may meet only once a month. But, they will know when Fall comes around, there is a new series for them to jump into.
You can persist in the ways you are currently recruiting leaders and forming groups. You will probably experience some incremental growth of 5-10 percent. But, by tweaking a few things, your Fall launch can bring more success in connecting people than you could ever ask or imagine.
By Allen White
After examining Jesus’ methods of developing disciples in the Gospels, the speaker on a recent podcast* made this statement– “Connect, Grow, Serve does not compare to how Jesus made disciples.” I would have to agree.
When you examine how Jesus made disciples, he spent about 75% of his time with the disciples. Only about 25% of this time was spent with large crowds. Disciplemaking is time consuming. Disciplemaking is personal. In large congregations, disciplemaking seems impossible. Conventional wisdom dictates that we put people through a process and call that discipleship. But, we’re not making sausage here.
I have tremendous gratitude for those who gave us the baseball diamond, the five G’s, and growth track among other strategies. They gave us a start and connected some of the dots about making disciples. Unfortunately, they didn’t go far enough.
For instance if you take a membership class and sign the membership card, you become a member. But if you take a class on personal growth, spiritual disciplines, or giving, and sign the card, you usually end up with a signed card, but not a disciple.
These are processes. These are assembly lines. But we’re not manufacturing widgets. People are unique. People require different amounts of things at different times in order to produce growth. A process is inadequate to achieve that goal. As Marcus Buckingham once said, “The problem with people is that they’re just never done.”
We frequently quote Acts 2:42-47 as the standard for disciple-making.
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. (NIV)
This is where the church was at its inception. Now that we’ve had 2,000 years to work on this, why does it seem we are making less progress? We have the same Gospel. We have the same Holy Spirit. Yet, the modern church is experiencing vastly different results. Something is wrong.
What we miss is the part about being devoted. The first century church was devoted. What are people devoted to? What are believers devoted to? What gets priority in their lives? Is it family, sports teams, political affiliation, or entertainment? I would say that many people are more devoted to their cell phones than anything else (as I dictate this post on my cell phone). But, how are we dedicated to the things of God? Is this once per week, twice per week, Christmas and Easter, when we think about it? What kind of devotion are we asking of the people we lead when it comes to their relationship with God? What is God asking?
So what’s the answer? Do we grow our churches smaller and put less effort into the weekend service? Maybe. Do we switch to house churches and forsake the big box church all together? I’m not sure. How do we change a Connect, Grow, Serve mentality of assimilation and “discipleship” into something that actually transforms lives. (If you’ve got a rocking Connect, Grow, Serve that’s making an impact, please let me know: email@example.com).
I believe there is a place for large groups, small groups, and individual disciplines. I also see how current systems of discipleship and even small groups are failing to produce lives that reflect Christ. I understand that people are busy and distracted. I understand that every local church requires a certain amount of time, talent, and treasure to operate. But, what are we producing? What is the return on investment? If you surveyed your church members, do their attitudes and actions reflect Jesus? Are they growing to become like Christ or are they merely trying to cope?
I would like to invite you on a journey to find some answers to these questions. Will you join me? The Disiciple Making R&D Pilot begins on Wednesday, May 9 at 2pm Eastern. Click here for more information.
*Pete Scazzero on the 5 Leadership Questions Podcast, Episode 238, March 27, 2018.
By Allen White
Businesses commonly have Research and Development or R&D departments to improve their products or create new ones. The purpose of R&D is to create the future without upsetting the apple cart of the present. In a recent episode of Carey Nieuwhof’s Leadership Podcast, Todd Wilson from Exponential asked the question about why churches don’t have R&D.
In the past we’ve often taken entire ministry models from other successful churches and imposed them on our churches. I’m guilty of that. Some of it worked. Some of it didn’t quite fit. And, we must admit, there were quite a few casualties along the way.
But, let’s face it, most churches struggle with producing disciples. As Pete Scazzero says, after spending time studying Jesus’ model of discipleship, the modern evangelical church’s Connect, Grow, and Serve falls short of what Jesus intended for his followers.
By Allen White
Effective disciple making is lacking in many churches.
If we impart knowledge, but don’t see change in attitudes and behaviors, are we making disciples?
So much of traditional Christian education is built on the knowledge component because it’s measurable. We can measure how many lessons were taught. We can measure how many verses were memorized. We can measure how many small group meetings were attended. But, does this give us the full picture?
How do you measure changes in attitude? What are the metrics for behavioral changes? How can people know so much of the Bible, yet do so little about it? What are we missing?
Here’s the dilemma: how do we figure out new methods of disciple making while we continue to run all of our current programs? You don’t have to scrap what you’re currently doing. In fact, most churches are already doing a lot of the right things. You may just need a few tweaks here and there to see transformed lives and not just educated ones.
As pastors, it’s hard to work on something and work in it at the same time. You want to improve your ability to make disciples, yet the tyranny of the urgent, ends up taking precedent. In some cases, just the sheer numbers of people to disciple causes you to resort to large scale processes, which often prove impersonal and ineffective.
Wouldn’t you love to have dedicated time to think about ministry while you’re doing the work of the ministry? Wouldn’t you like to add a few more disciple making tools that work without wrecking the things that are already helping?
When you look at the business world, companies are constantly developing new products while they continue to produce their current products. They set aside a portion of their time, energy, and budget to R&D – Research and Development. They try new things on a smaller scale before they would add a new product or replace a current product.
I want to invite you to join me in Disciple Making R&D. This is a place where you can think about how to improve disciple makings. You can try out some new methods that will help to transform the lives of your members without upsetting the apple cart.
This isn’t the new shiny object. This isn’t the silver bullet. I would like to introduce you to things I have used and developed over the last 30 years of ministry that have proven effective in producing well-rounded disciples.
The six weekly sessions include:
- The Problem of Modern Discipleship.
- The Limits of Traditional Christian Education.
- Disciple Marking and Small Groups.
- How to Measure Spiritual Growth.
- How to Fulfill Our Mission.
- A Well-Rounded Approach to Disciple Making.
- What informs our spiritual growth?
- Discipling the Whole Person.
- Moving People from Student to Servant.
- Inputs and Relationships for Disciple Making.
- The Exponential Growth Model.
- The role of groups in making disciples.
- The role of a personal trainer in making disciples.
- The role of personal disciples in making disciples.
- Learning, Action, and Reflection
- Fulfilling the Entire Great Commission.
- The Role of curriculum in spiritual growth.
- Effective accountability.
- Relational evaluation.
- Healthy Lives Multiply.
- Becoming Hero Makers.
- The Pathway from Disciple to Disciple Maker to Leader.
- Identify what’s working in your current environment.
- Identify what’s not working or what has plateaued.
- Identify opportunities for change.
- How to engage disciples in groups
I would like to invite you to the pilot for Disciple Making R&D. We will meet for six weekly one hour sessions via GotoMeeting. The pilot cost is $97. When the full course is developed, it will cost $249. The group starts on Wednesday, May 9 and is limited to 25 people who are serious about making disciples. Is this you?
By Allen White
Small groups are no longer making disciples at the rate they once were. For many churches, the purpose of groups is to assimilate new people and keep them connected so they won’t leave. Everyone needs to go where everybody knows their name, and they’re always glad you came… But, if the purpose of small groups ends with assimilation, host homes, and the church-wide campaign, then how are disciples being made? Host homes and campaigns are great to get groups going, but not so great for on-going discipleship.
Disciple Making is Not Complex.
Programs are complex. Disciple making is not. Jesus told us what we need to know to make disciples.
First, Jesus gave us the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV). Jesus boiled 613 commands down to two: Love God and Love your neighbor. God is easy to love. But, neighbors, which neighbors? Look out the window.
Second, Jesus gave us the Great Compassion in Matthew 25. “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). Feed hungry people. Clothe those in need. Show hospitality to strangers. Visit the prisoner. Care for the sick. Essentially, love your neighbor as yourself. See #1.
Third, Jesus gave us the Great Commission. Read this and try not to “yada, yada, yada” it. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus told us to “Go.” How well are we scattering? We’re pretty good at gathering. Jesus didn’t say the lost should come to our seeker services. That’s not working as well as it once did.
Does this seem too simple? If our lives were focused on these things, we would grow. Our people would grow. As Jim Collins says in Good to Great, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.”
Disciple Making is Customized.
Disciple Making relies on a system to produce disciples. When we hear the word system, we often resort to a manufacturing process, a catechism, or a training program. While some of these methods might add to disciple making, there is a considerable flaw in the thinking. People don’t come to us as raw materials. They aren’t blank slates. They have a past. They are different – genders, races, backgrounds, educations, experiences, personalities, gifting, callings, opportunities, abuses, and so many other things contribute to who people are. I’m not like you. You’re not like me. Yet, we are called to be like Jesus.
While we must all know basic things about the Bible and what it teaches, how we reflect more of Jesus is a different journey for all of us. I grew up in church. That’s a funny statement, but we were there so often that at times it felt like we lived there. I learned all of the Bible stories in Sunday school. Our church was more of the Arminian persuasion, so I’ve gone to the altar more than 100 times to make sure I was saved. I called this eternal insecurity.
I learned to live by a code of conduct which included no smoking, no alcohol, no dancing, no movies, no playing cards, and the list went on. In my church we couldn’t belly up to the bar, but we could belly up to the buffet. That’s how we got the bellies!
In a holiness tradition, there is a fine line between setting yourself apart for God and becoming legalistic. Legalism defined the don’ts for me, but not all of the don’ts. The don’ts seemed more significant than the do’s. But, if I lived better than other people, then God would bless me. The others got what they deserved. I didn’t need to understand people from other backgrounds. They were sinners. They were going to hell. There wasn’t a lot of love going around.
Now, put me in your church. How could you help me become more like Jesus? How can I learn to love my neighbor as myself? How can I see people who are different from me as people who God loves? I don’t need to know more of the Bible. I know it. Bring on the Bible Jeopardy!
How would you affect my attitudes and my behavior? How could I think more like Christ? How could I act more like Christ? By the definition set in the church I grew up in, I’m a model citizen. I fit with the tribe. They’re proud of me. Yet, I lack so much.
This is where cookie cutter disciple making goes wrong. We produce rule followers with cold hearts and no actions to demonstrate God’s love to those who are far from Him.
Fortunately, I’m much different now than where I was when I graduated from high school. But, it wasn’t college, seminary, or another church’s process that got me there. It was something unique that God is doing in my life. I’m not the exception here.
My friend John Hampton, Senior Pastor of Journey Christian Church, Apopka, FL lost a ton of weight recently. By ton, I mean, 50-60 lbs. and he’s kept it off. How did he do it? He joined a gym who gave him a personal trainer. The trainer’s first question was “What do you want to work on?” The trainer didn’t prescribe a standard course of physical fitness. The trainer connected with what John was motivated to change. In turn, John’s team is now sitting down with people at their church and asking them, “What do you want to work on?” Then, offering a next step to get them started.
There is nothing outside of us that can motivate us more than what is inside of us. For the believer, God is inside of us – in case you didn’t know where I was going there. What we are motivated to change right now should be the thing we focus on changing. If we don’t sense a need to change, then we need to bring that question to God: “What do you want to work on?”
Disciple Making is Obedience.
The last phrase in the Great Commission punched me between the eyes not long ago: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Read the phrase again. What did Jesus tell us to teach disciples? Hint: Jesus did not say to teach his commands. Jesus instructed us to teach obedience.
In the area where I live, everyone goes to church. There are more than 75 other churches within 10 miles of the church I attend. It’s part of the culture. While these church-going folks are faithful to church attendance, it doesn’t stop them from being hateful, passive-aggressive, and racist. There’s a high incidence of domestic violence here. The daily news is not good news. Now, this isn’t everybody. But, with so much access to church, you’d expect people to be a little more like Jesus. Bible knowledge is there, but changes in attitudes and behaviors are lacking.
Recently, a man who grew up here, told me about his family history in the area. His family has lived here for over 100 years. It’s a colorful family history – running moonshine and other illegal activities. At one point, he told me, “My grandmother was a fine Christian woman, well, except for running a brothel.” I had no response.
How’s your disciple making? What results are you seeing? What’s missing?
There is so much to unpack here. Please join me in the comments for a discussion. We’ve got to get our people beyond just coping with life. We’re on a mission. How can your members join that mission?
By Allen White
Most churches are organized to preserve the institution. The institution may be the church as a whole, a paradigm embraced 25 years ago, or a worship style that fit a previous generation well. I’m not just speaking of traditional churches. This also applied to churches which are contemporary to 1995 or 2005. What worked for the last 25 years will not work for the next 25 years.
Ministry is Simpler
A stark difference lies between simpler and simplistic. Simplistic means offering just a few things to easily assimilate busy people into the life of the church. That’s not bad. But, perpetuating ministries based merely on the length of their existence or on its success in other churches are insufficient reasons to continue them in your church (or even to start them).
In most cases, the basis of this thinking is a system of staff-led ministries created to move people from the parking lot, through the front door, into a commitment to the church, and finally assigned to ministry. Henry Ford would be proud. But, the people who leave their cars in the parking lot to step into church for the first time are not raw materials or blank slates. They have different backgrounds, education, gifts, abilities, and spiritual experiences. If and when they complete the church’s process, they won’t be uniform products lined up neatly in rows. We aren’t manufacturing widgets.
Ministry is complex when those in authority decide what the church’s ministry should be, then attempt to recruit members into ministries which are not well suited for them. The purpose of many of these ministries is to serve the institution: park cars, shake hands, take up the offering, watch the children, and so forth. The focus of ministry is centered on the weekend experience, not the gifts and passions of the members. The end result is the constant need to feed the beast, that is, the weekend service.
As Rick Rusaw asks, “What if we gave as much attention to scattering as we give to gathering?” The seeker service is fading. The missional movement gets the church part way there, but lacks building relationships with those who are served. Incarnational is next. What is incarnational? Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:37-40 — “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Jesus gave his followers only two things to do: Love God and Love Neighbors. An M.Div. is not necessary for either of those. (I have an M.Div.)
There is merit to keeping what works and tossing what doesn’t. Every ministry has a time to thrive, and a time to die, especially when it’s not aligned to Jesus’ mission.
When we give people permission and opportunity, they become very creative. Ministry is simpler by starting only the things our people currently are gifted and called to do. When there is no longer a leader carrying that vision, then the ministry ends. Then, we get behind the next group of leaders with the gifts and passion for what is next. It’s simpler.
The System is Simpler
Most people don’t need an elaborate strategy to connect with a church. They only need someone who genuinely cares about them. They need a friend.
This is a function of multiplication, which I wrote about here. A simpler system is a system of multiplication. You must multiply yourself in order for your church to grow. We must realize that ministry is not something we do to people. The people are our ministry. Their development is both the future of our ministry and the future of the church.
But, when does a busy pastor have time for multiplying themselves when the tasks of ministry are overwhelming already? Give some of those tasks away. Develop people to fulfill those roles. Stop doing things which are not multiplication factors. Everyone has the same amount of time – whether they are multiplying or not.
Only 15 percent of Millennials and only 4 percent of GenZ are Christians. We have heard for years that the church is only one generation away from extinction. This could be the generation.
You don’t need to become an expert in Millennials or GenZ. You just need to engage them. Talk to them about what Jesus said and help them discover the application for their context. Instead of approaching them as their grandfather, engage them as a missionary. This is a cross cultural experience within our own culture.
I am 53 years old. I am not the future of the church. Neither are you. But, I’m not planning on quitting any time soon. I do plan to continue in relevant ways and to celebrate what the next generations come up with. What will it take to empower and encourage the next generations? How can we give them permission to serve in their cultural context?
Word of Caution
Before you go and wreck your church, remember you have a lot of people that it’s working for. You can’t afford to lose them. Love Millennials all day long, but remember, they’re broke, and you’re not ready to retire.
Am I speaking out of both sides of my mouth? Maybe. You can be the judge. Your current church members were brought into the current ministry of your church with a certain understanding of how things would be – a contract, if you will. If you attempt to change that contract in an autocratic, mandatory fashion, then you’re done. But, what if you could begin to make changes without threatening the base?
In a recent episode of Carey Nieuwhof’s Leadership Podcast, Todd Wilson from Exponential shared the idea of churches creating R&D labs and setting aside funds for it. This would allow for pilots and “skunk works” without upsetting the apple cart. I’m not talking about creating services like we did for GenX that ended up splitting our churches. R&D is a portion of funds, staffing, energy, and creativity applied to the future without radically disrupting the status quo until new concepts are proven out.
It will take a long time for our members to give up the worship style and ministry that they love for the sake of the next generation. Wasn’t this our argument to the traditional folks when we wanted to implement seeker services? But, time is short. A generation is at stake.
What is your church discovering?
By Allen White
Multiplying small groups is difficult. Multiplication involves developing leaders within a group in an effort to start new groups. Some methods of multiplication involve group members leaving the group to start new groups. “Multiplication” really becomes a euphemism for division. For many groups in North America, multiplication like this is unwelcome.
Many churches I’ve coached and the two churches I served on staff have experienced multiplication efforts as subtraction. We weren’t multiplying groups. We were losing groups because no one wanted to multiply. Or, more accurately, we were losing the opportunity to multiply.
In my days of handpicking group leaders, pushing an apprentice model, and encouraging group multiplication, I faced considerable pushback. Members didn’t want to leave groups. Group leaders couldn’t identify an apprentice. I ran out of people to handpick. Our groups were stuck with only 30 percent of our congregation connected into groups. Then, out of frustration, we discovered something that worked.
1. Stop Recruiting Leaders.
I have not personally recruited a small group leader since 2004 (and I served a whole other church since then). How do you multiply groups without recruiting leaders? You engage the senior pastor. Whether you hand a copy of Transformation Groups to your pastor to show him how groups can solve most of your church members’ needs or create video-based curriculum with your senior pastor’s teaching, there is no better spokesperson for groups than the senior pastor.
When we created a video-based curriculum that aligned with my pastor’s message series, we were giving our people more of what they already wanted – our pastor’s teaching. When he stood up on a Sunday morning and invited people to open their homes and host a group, we doubled our groups in one day. Semantics aside, we had never seen groups multiply so fast.
Small group pastors and directors at best will recruit only 30 percent of the leaders that the senior pastor is able to recruit. How do I know? After seven years of personally making the invitation to lead, our church had only 30 percent in groups. When my senior pastor made a similar invitation, our groups jumped from 30 percent to 60 percent the first time around. Within six month, we had 125 percent of our average adult attendance in groups. My pastor recruited every leader from 31-125 percent.
2. Stop Coaching Leaders.
Up until the day our groups doubled, I coached all of the leaders myself. In many ways, I had become the “lid” on our small group ministry. The limited number of groups we had at that point was a true reflection of my leadership. As Andy Stanley says our system was perfectly designed to achieve the results we were getting. We were stuck because I was the bottleneck, so I stopped coaching the leaders.
Instead, I handpicked a leadership team of six coaches to help me lead the small group ministry. This felt like a risky move because things were moving so fast that I couldn’t keep up. As their pastor, I had to admit that I didn’t have it all figured out and that I needed them to figure this out with me. They were up for the challenge. We led together, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. They coached the leaders. I led the leadership team. Our groups multiplied.
3. Stop Assigning People to Groups.
There are a lot of reasons to assign people to groups. It’s efficient. It’s easy. It helps to prevent combinations of troublemakers from meeting together. It’s a pure expression of control. Yikes!
Assigning people to groups, sign up cards, websites, and group directories are all efficient ways to place people in groups, but they aren’t effective. The wheels fall off these efforts simply because these are task-oriented approaches in forming relationally-based groups. Do you see the problem?
By placing people into groups, we are setting them up on a blind date, if you will. Most people don’t enjoy blind dates. It’s awkward. It’s stressful. It rarely works out. The same is true of small group “blind dates.”
Instead, when people offer to host a new group, their first job is to recruit people to join their group. By making a list of people they know, praying over the list, and personally inviting these folks, groups filled up quickly and stayed together for a second study. Make opportunity for those who aren’t invited to a group to meet the group leaders and join a group. In a church of 800 adults, we connected 1,000 into groups without sign up cards, websites, or directories. In the churches I coach (both larger and smaller) this has proved effective in forming lasting groups.
4. Stop Training Apprentices.
We broke the rule of attempting to recruit and train one apprentice. I learned from Brett Eastman and Lifetogether to “apprentice” the entire group. Everyone chose a responsibility to host the group in their home, lead all or a portion of the study, bring refreshments, plan outreach events and parties. Potential leaders were much easier to identify when they were put into action rather than picked out of a lineup.
As groups grew, some left to start a new group. There was no mandatory splitting of groups. They just got too big for the houses they were meeting in.
Honestly, 14 years ago, I didn’t believe this would be my story. Once we implemented the principles I shared here, I couldn’t believe how easy it was to multiply groups. Now, I’ve seen this story multiplied across over 1,500 churches that I’ve had the privilege of coaching.
This could be your story.
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Matthew 26:36-38
Jesus consented to His mission long before He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. As God, He knew that there was no other way to redeem anyone except that He would lay down His life.
One of the mysteries of faith is that Jesus is fully God and fully man. This is not a 50/50 equation. He is 100 percent God and 100 percent man. That is difficult to wrap our minds around, but that’s okay.
As His crucifixion neared, Jesus went to the Gethsemane to pray and to work through some intense feelings. One might think that the Son of Man who so brashly proclaimed His divinity to the religious leaders would approach His death with more of a “git ur done” attitude. But, Jesus was overwhelmed with sorrow.
As a man, Jesus had never experienced death, especially a death accompanied by such torture and humiliation. Anyone who can sit through the scenes in the movie, The Passion of the Christ, without falling apart, must have a heart of stone. The agony is overwhelming. Jesus knew what was coming.
As God, Jesus faced taking on “the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). This may have brought more anguish than the prospect of physical pain. Jesus had never been separated from the Father, not even in a small degree. Now, the Holy One, who had always been set apart from evil, would take on all of it and face separation from the Father.
The driving aspect of Jesus’ sorrow was over the lostness of people. He viewed us as “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Jesus knew that there was no other way for us to be reconciled with God. We certainly couldn’t save ourselves.
At Gethsemane, Jesus proves many things to us. He gives us the most extreme example of fully surrendering ourselves to God. Jesus doesn’t present obedience to the Father as the path to a problem-free life. He shows us that there is something better than a life devoid of troubles; namely, a blessed life.
Jesus expressed that real men experience real emotions. It’s okay to be overwhelmed. It’s okay to feel sorrowful. It’s okay to take those things to the Father.
Jesus showed us how important we are to Him. At great personal sacrifice, He died for our sins. “God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son…” (John 3:16).
Where do these words intersect with your life today? What are you feeling deeply that you need to lay before God? What are you struggling with that you need might need to surrender to Him?