By Allen White
I’ve seen small group launches go really well. And, I’ve had churches come to me after the launch or a series of launches and ask for help. Not so secretly, I really wish I had the opportunity to talk to them first. Any church only has so many opportunities to successfully launch groups and connect the majority of their members. Failure to launch in these circumstances is fatal for future launch attempts.
As I’ve worked with churches, large and small, across North America, I have discovered seven things that help churches successfully launch groups. By having these things in place, you have a better chance of recruiting the leaders and coaches you need, forming groups that will last, and make your senior pastor a raving fan of groups.
Insight #1: Choose the Right Topic.
The right or wrong topic will make or break your launch. Think about who you are trying to connect: church members or folks in the community. If you chose a mature topic like tithing or fasting, more than likely you’ll have a tough road getting your members to participate let alone anyone from outside of your church. Think about topics that would be a felt need for your people and your community.
I’ve coached churches who have done a two step strategy with this. The first campaign was used to connect and cast vision to the church body. The second campaign was designed for the church to reach the community. For instance, Capital Area Christian Church in the Harrisburg, PA area launched a New Year’s series in 2015 called Manifesto. This series laid out the vision and mission of the church to their people. Then, after Easter 2015, the launched a second series called Monsters Under the Bed, which addresses the topic of fear — now that’s a significant felt need. In the second series, they connect more in their congregation, but also quite a few in their community.
Insight #2: Lower the Bar on Leadership.
That doesn’t mean throwing people who are completely unprepared with no coach into the deep end. When I say, “lower the bar” I mean temporarily setting aside your requirements for short term series groups. These groups aren’t advertised. You don’t send people to these groups. You invite people who are open to doing a study with their friends give small groups a try. Maybe for the first time.
If they have a good experience leading a group, then invite them to do more. Eventually, you will offer them a leadership track to make them official leaders. If things didn’t go so well for them, then thank them for giving it a try and encourage them to try another ministry.
As Neil Cole says, “We need to lower the bar on what it means to be a leader and raise the bar on what it means to be a disciple.” Not everyone has a leadership gift, but we are all called to “go and make disciples.” No one is exempt from the Great Commission. By giving your people an easy to use tool like a video-based curriculum, you can help your people live in obedience to God by equipping them for what God commands them to do. When did this become an option?
Insight #3: Focus on Recruiting Group Leaders.
If your pastor is willing to give “airtime” in the weekend service to talk about groups, recruit leaders. If your pastor gives you airtime for multiple weekends, recruit leaders. If you are recruiting leaders, people will figure out the church is launching groups or doing a church-wide campaign. Don’t waste this precious airtime promoting groups. And, certainly don’t waste this precious airtime promoting classes and Bible studies that are on their way out. Recruit leaders.
Insight #4: Keep the Invitation and the Response Close Together.
People only think about church when they are in church. When the pastor invites folks to lead a group, then provide a way IN THE SERVICE for them to respond. Don’t send them to the lobby. Don’t send them to the website. Don’t send them out the door without collecting their response.
Whether you use a response card which is placed in the offering, an online survey taken on a smartphone, or texting a message to a designated number, you want to get a “Yes” from every willing person before they head out the door. If you send an email invitation from the Senior Pastor during the week, provide a link for them to sign up online.
Insight #5: Shorten the Distance Between Their “Yes” and Starting the Group.
Since we’ve already waved the requirements, the new leaders are already one step closer to starting their group. Whether the Senior Pastor encourages them in the service to begin inviting people to their groups or they are instructed on how to form their groups in a briefing immediately after the service, don’t allow any time to pass from when they say “Yes” to when the new leaders put things in motion.
The longer you wait, the sooner they will get cold feet. Don’t schedule a briefing or orientation a month from the invitation because it’s efficient. I would rather host three briefs per weekend for three weeks in a row with a handful of people at each than wait a month and lose half of the prospective leaders in the process. You’ve made it easy for people to start groups, now get them started!
Insight #6: Recruit During the Month Prior to Your Launch.
While you can promote well in advance of the series, don’t take signups for months. I learned this from a PTA president. Promote early and often, but only take signups right before the event. Otherwise, you can recruit and recruit only to discover most people will sign up in the last three weeks before the start of the launch.
One month out gather your existing group leaders to give them the first look at the series. I call this a Sneak Peek. This will honor your leaders by giving them an exclusive opportunity to check out the new study. This will also take pressure off of your new leader briefings by briefing your established leaders ahead of time. This is also a great opportunity to recruit your established leaders to coach new leaders.
Then, recruit new leaders for the three weeks leading up to the launch. Not everyone attends every weekend, so you want to ask for more than one weekend. Also, some people will need time to warm up to the idea. The first week they might say “No” to leading a group, but by the third week, their “No” might turn to a “Yes.”
Insight #7: Your Senior Pastor Must be Your Church’s Small Group Champion.
Going back 20 years, I used to personally recruit every small group leader in my church. While I had stellar group leaders, my church also got stuck at 30 percent of our people in groups. Then, I asked my Senior Pastor to invite people to lead groups. We doubled our groups in a day. I have not personally recruited another small group leader since 2004. And, I served in a whole other church since then!
To gain your Senior Pastor’s interest in groups, put your pastor on the curriculum. If you do, your pastor will be more interested in groups because he will want people to use his curriculum. Also, your people will be far more interested in joining a group, because they already like your pastor’s teaching.
I know I gave you these seven insights in rapid fire succession. If you hit these seven points, you will have a great small group launch. If you want to hear more, then register for my next webinar at allenwhite.org/webinars.
By Allen White
My guest today is Alan Danielson, the Lead Pastor of a church that’s probably a lot like yours. New Life Bible Church is a church of a few hundred people, but not long ago he was on the executive staff of Life.Church in Edmond, OK. Now, along with pastoring New Life, Alan is a consultant and has worked with many of America’s largest churches. Alan founded Triple-Threat Solutions to help leaders of and churches of all sizes grow. Learn more from Alan at http://www.3Threat.net.
Q1: You’re not new at small groups. Over the years, what trends/methods/strategies in forming groups have stood the test of time?
Oh boy, I have several things that come to mind. The first and most obvious answer is leadership. Every group that lasts needs a leader. There are “leaderless” methods for starting groups but these groups only last long-term when someone in the group demonstrates leadership. They may never actually give someone the title of leader, but make no mistake a truly “leaderless” group won’t be a group for long.
The second thing that pops into my head is coaching. I’m a huge believer in small group coaches. I’ve heard lots of people claim that coaching doesn’t work, but that has certainly not been my experience. By providing coaches to connect with and guide my small group leaders, I’ve given them all a lifeline and a partner. I once asked my friend Dave Treat why some people are down on small group coaching when it has proven to be so important to me. He said, “Coaching works, but people are lazy.” What that means is that coaching is hard work and it only works if pastors and other leaders will put in the effort needed.
Thirdly, I think of church wide small group campaigns. Campaigns are such a simple tool for launching new groups and getting new people connected. If a campaign is followed up by capable small group coaches, the new groups can last a long time and provide a great platform for discipleship.
Q2: When you think about methods like church-wide campaigns and other ways of rapidly forming groups, do you see these srategies going the long haul? Why or why not?
I’ve seen both. I’ve seen churches run campaigns, start a ton of groups, get bunches of people connected only to see those groups fizzle out after a few months.
I’ve also seen churches run campaigns, start a ton of groups, get bunches of people connected and then see the groups last and build tremendous relationships that change lives.
So what’s the difference? The first two things I talked about after your first question: leadership and coaching. At some point someone in the group has to take up the mantle of leader (whether they want the title or not). The perfect person to guide the would-be leader through that process is a small group coach. A well-trained coach can help people make the transition into leadership well. Without leaders and coaches, small groups quickly implode, collapse, dissolve or just fade away.
Q3: You’ve served as a small group champion as both a small group pastor and a senior pastor. Where have you been the most effective in group ministry? What made it more effective?
Well, it depends on what you call effective. When I was a campus small group pastor at Life.Church we developed 544 groups on a campus of 7,000 people. 544 groups sounds really impressive, but I was never impressed. We averaged 8.45 people per group which translated 4,597 people connected. That still sounds like a lot. But when compared to our campus attendance of 7,000 it meant that just under 66% of our weekend attenders were in groups. In school 66% is a D.
When I was promoted to executive groups pastor over all of our campuses we got to nearly 1,100 groups total for all of our campuses. That came out to 9,295 people in groups. At the time we were running 28,000 on all campuses meaning we had 33% of our total attendance in groups. That’s an F.
Now I’m the lead pastor of a church of 300 and we have about 80% of our people in groups. That’s much better.
What made the difference in these three different settings? Leadership and coaching. On the one campus where I led the small group ministry, coaching was a critical component. When I was given charge of all 13 campuses, we were in the middle of implementing our coaching ministry on all campuses. If I’d stayed there longer I believe we would have broken the 66% mark and gone even further.
Here’s the big takeaway: small groups and coaching work in all churches of all size. Success is determined not by the slickness of the strategy but by the break-neck-work-ethic of every leader involved (from the pastor to the group leader) and high value of small groups in the church. My current church will one day hit, and I believe exceed, the 100% mark because, as the lead pastor, I am committed to our strategy. Then I hire staff who share that commitment, who recruit coaches who share that commitment, who train leaders who share that commitment.
Q4: What is different about Group Life in Oklahoma than in other places?
The Food! When I was a pastor in Santa Fe, New Mexico, you could be sure that every small group had some form of green chile every week. In Oklahoma there are lots of veggie trays, followed by some kind of meat and dessert.
Seriously though, I don’t really think there’s much difference. People are people everywhere you go. As I’ve consulted with churches all across the country I’ve noticed that people crave connection everywhere. Every neighborhood needs groups who will care for the neighborhood. Every person in every church needs healthy relationships and needs to grow spiritually. The biggest difference is simply one of awareness. In the Oklahoma (often called the buckle of the Bible Belt), more people in the culture are aware of small groups or Bible study groups. In Portland, Oregon the average person hasn’t heard of such a thing.
Q5: When we first met, you were the small groups pastor at LifeChurch.tv (now Life.Church). What did you small group structure look like across multiple campuses? Were groups consistent across campuses or did that matter?
The goal was to have a consistent group strategy and structure on all campuses. It was to be built on three basic building-blocks: leaders, coaches and campaigns. We did two campaigns every year, so we needed coaches on every campus who would develop great leaders in a very short time. That’s a pretty over-simplified summary, but I think you get the gist.
Anyway, when I became the point person overseeing groups on all campuses, the group ministries did not have a very consistent look. My predecessor had encouraged lots of experimentation on every campus, so there were definitely differences from one campus to the next. These differences were both good and bad. The good thing was that each of our 13 campuses was a laboratory where we could try different strategies and tactics. The bad thing was the tendency of the campus groups pastors becoming too attached to their own way of doing things. This led to quite a bit of tension.
Okay, before I continue I have to give you a little more context. What I’m saying may sound like I’m running down Life.Chruch, but that’s most definitely NOT my intent. Remember, when I was at Life.Church, the multi-site movement was still very new. In many ways we were making things up as we went along. We quickly became the biggest multi-site church in the country and had few examples to learn from, so we made a TON of mistakes. That’s why I’m very comfortable sharing that we got an “F” for only 33% of our people in groups. But in this case and “F” is not automatically a failure. We didn’t necessarily view each experiment as “success” or “failure”, but as an “opportunity to learn”. Even things that didn’t pan out like we’d hoped taught us a lot.
So through all of this I learned that the most important part of leading multi-site small group ministry came down to the campus small group pastor. If the campus small group pastor was a teachable, team-player, he/she was far more likely to utilize the basics that we wanted to implement on each campus (the basics being the things I mentioned earlier: leaders, coaches and campaigns). The independent-type campus group pastors had a tendency to try to blaze their own trails. Rather than building upon something proven effective, they often tried to start building from a new foundation. This often led to slower success. Under my leadership, the ideal personality-mix for a campus group pastor was a creative person who is willing to learn from and follow their leadership. Rather than being trail blazers (or sometimes even rebels), these types of campus group pastors implemented the basics and experimented with ideas only if they would enhance or improve the basics.
Q5.5: As the co-owner of the second largest Star Wars fan site in the world, what is your favorite Star Wars movie?
It’s episode V, The Empire Strikes Back!
By Allen White
In leading small groups and tracking trends over the last 25 years, I’ve done all kinds of things to recruit leaders and get people connected into groups. Some of those things, I had to apologize for. Others, I simply avoided from the start. While this post is not meant to cast aspersions on other well-meaning practitioners, it might be time to slow down and rethink some of the things we’ve been doing.
1. Telling People, “Your small group will be your new best friends.”
Sometimes in our zeal of connecting people into community, we overreach and make unrealistic promises about small groups. Let’s face it, we’ve all been in small groups. Some of those groups rocked. Some of those groups don’t rock. The more random the method in forming small groups, the less likely people will become friends, let alone, close friends. I’ve actually had to apologize for this one.
Maybe a better way to say this is that prospective group members will meet some friendly people in groups. That’s a safer bet. But, you can even go one better.
Encourage people to form a group with the friends they already have. This way they are doing something intentional about their spiritual growth and getting together with their friends. This is much better than forsaking their current friends for a group of possible future friends. After all, why reconnect people who are already connected?
Now there may be some new folks in your church who honestly don’t know anyone. People who have just moved into the community or are new to your church might not get invited into a group. These tend to be the exceptions and not the rule. Make allowances for these exceptions, but don’t oversell groups in the process.
2. Recruiting Leaders by saying, “Hosting a group is simple.”
Fourteen years ago, we were introduced to a new strategy to recruit hosts instead of leaders. The idea was that if people would open their home, provide some refreshments, and push play, then they can very easily host a group.
Then, we ran into an issue — everybody is normal until you get to know them (Thanks, John Ortberg for that line). Once people got into groups and got to know each other, we discovered there were a few problems. These issues went well beyond pouring coffee and pushing play. Now, what do we do?
The issue really comes down to how well the hosts were prepared and what kind of backup you’ve provided. Starting with the first briefing or orientation the new host attends, they need to understand when something comes up, they will have a coach to turn to, and not just a phone number. They will also receive on-going training, and not just jump into the deep end and have fun! Something as simple as sending out a short training video on a regular basis to answer common questions or to direct hosts in where to turn for help makes for suitable backup.
The risk of not offering coaching, training, and help is hosts who end up with a bad experience, no group, and no plans for hosting a group again. These causalities can and should be avoided at all costs. Regardless of the whether the church has dozens, hundreds or thousands of new groups, it’s necessary to effectively support them. Otherwise, you end up with the dilemma of disposable groups.
3. Believing New Leaders can Survive Without a Coach.
One of the biggest factors in the failure of new groups is discouragement. The friends who a new leader invites can’t join the group. Twenty people signed up, but only a few showed up. The enemy beats the new leaders up and convinces them they aren’t good enough to lead. Discouragement is devastating to new leaders.
Most new leaders aren’t going to pick up the phone and seek out encouragement. In fact, if they did, they might feel they were confessing a fault rather than seeking help. But, a coach who checks in on them regularly is far more likely to hear the new leader’s need first and respond. The new leaders will be more open with their coaches, since they have a relationship.
Building a coaching structure is the real work of small group ministry. Regardless of the size of your church, if you follow the principles of Exodus 18, you will have more groups and better leaders. Neglecting new leaders is unwise.
4. Inviting People to Join Groups, then Making Them the Leader.
Years ago I came across a strategy where you put prospective members in a room, went through a series of exercises, then at the end of the evening, groups were formed including a newly designated leader chosen by the group. I’ll be honest. The first time I heard this idea, I put the materials in the bottom drawer of my desk and didn’t look at them again for three years!
While I am a huge advocate of inviting any willing soul to lead a group or to do a study with their friends, I have to admit, this idea of walking in as prospective members and walking out as group leaders makes me uneasy. I understand people need to be challenged to step out of their comfort zone. I’m not sure that putting them on the spot is the best way to do it.
In all of our efforts to recruit leaders and connect people into groups, I believe we need to be careful and not cross a line into questionable practices. There are plenty of strategies which will achieve better results that are more forthright. And, of course, launching new groups without a coach is just a bad idea.
There is huge potential for groups and group leaders in your church. And, I will admit, I am a big fan of anyone who will take risks to make that happen. But, rather than focusing on a short term win, we need to look at the long game. If someone gets burned in a group experience early on, how likely will they try it again? Let’s keep from over-promising and under-delivering in groups. Group life is so amazing, there really is no need for shortcuts.
Now, in today’s post, I may have picked on one of your favorite strategies. You may disagree with me. Let me know by leaving a comment. Let’s talk about it.
By Allen White
Theories and strategies abound regarding the primary purpose of small groups. There are so many great reasons to promote groups. Small groups solve the assimilation problem in a church. They increase connection and spiritual growth. People in small groups tend to serve more than people who are not in groups. And, people in groups also tend to give more than people who are not in small groups. (Based on research by Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger in Transformational Groups and Robert Wuthnow in Sharing the Journey). But, none of these is the primary purpose of small groups.
The primary purpose of small groups is leadership development.
Small groups rise and fall on leadership development. Now, this isn’t just recruiting leaders for a six week churchwide campaign. That’s a start. Developing leaders requires training, coaching, and processing experiences. I would even go so far as to say leadership development is the end result of effective discipleship.
Meet Doug. When I first met Doug, he didn’t consider himself to be a leader at all. In fact, Doug had always thought he was dumb. You see he had never finished high school. Doug was now retired in his sixties and had spent his carrier driving and operating a construction crane. He drove this huge crane all over the San Francisco Bay Area, which to be honest, it’s difficult enough to commute there with a car sometimes — let alone a huge crane!
Doug and his wife, Kay, started a group during one of our churchwide campaigns. They were great. Very hospitable. They were naturals.
As our small group ministry grew, I developed a leadership team to help me oversee and coach our small group leaders. Around this time Doug was heavily involved in a multilevel marketing company. I noticed how well he managed relationships. He worked with so many people, yet kept in constant contact and kept both his down line motivated and his customers rolling in. I saw Doug had what it takes to coach others and serve on my small group team. I just asked him to keep his product out of the coaching. He agreed.
After working with Doug for a few years, first as a small group leader, then as a coach on our small group leadership team, it came time for me to leave the church I had served for 15 years. Doug left me with these words, “Thank you, Pastor Allen, for showing me I was the leader I never knew I was.” That’s probably the best compliment I’ve ever been given.
I don’t remember who was in Doug’s group or the leaders he coached. I don’t recall all of the great things that happened in these groups, but I do remember the great thing that happened in Doug. He went from a guy who thought he was dumb to a leader who multiplied his life in the lives of hundreds of other people.
If as a small group pastor or director, you focus on connecting a bunch of potential members into groups, you’ll end up with a huge stack of sign up cards and an ineffective system to manage them. Read about my hatred for sign up cards here. If your senior pastor gives airtime to small groups in the weekend service, recruit leaders. Don’t waste that precious commodity inviting prospective members to join groups. If the new leader has the stuff, they can gather a group.
You can spend all of your time creating curriculum. Curriculum is not a bad thing. But, then your groups turn into life on curriculum instead of life on life.
But, make an investment in your leaders, and you have something that will build your small groups life nothing else. As Simon Sinek says, “You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.” If you find people with a heart for others and the relational warmth to gather a group or reach out to group leaders, then you can equip them with everything they need to do it. Find the right people and make the investment.
By Allen White
The Fall and the New Year offer key windows to launch small groups in a big way. Most churches struggle with the dilemma of connecting a large number of people in a short period of time. When we (pastors and directors) become overwhelmed, the temptation to offer a programmatic solution looms large, a.k.a the sign-up card in the bulletin. Here’s why it’s a bad idea:
Cards Create an Immediate Delay
We live in a culture of immediate access. When we purchase a song on iTunes or a book on Kindle or Nook, the download begins immediately. The days of waiting for a package to arrive are quickly disappearing. Don’t believe me. Where’s the Columbia House CD Club?
When a prospective group member turns in a sign-up card, nothing happens immediately. Most likely, nothing will happen that day or the next day or maybe even the next week. People will wait for the college admissions office, but probably not to join a group. The sign up card creates a delay that you’d rather avoid.
Raising Expectations Increases the Risk of Disappointment
When a church provides a sign-up card as the means for group connections, the prospective group member will expect a solid fit right away. After all, who’s a better matchmaker than the church? Now, I know what you’re thinking – offer a disclaimer like “the church does not guarantee a perfect match in any group.” No thanks. I’d rather just take my chances on my own.
Rather than creating the small groups version of eharmony, create an environment where groups and prospective members can meet each other face to face. People will get a sense, even in 30 seconds, whether a group will be right for them over the next six weeks.
Death by Typo
Today, I tried to help a church member who was looking for a group. I’m helping a buddy with a church he’s consulting with. From literally 3,000 miles away, I’m trying to share possible groups with the prospective member. I had the right options, but the wrong email address. An “r” was read as a “c,” so my good information wasn’t making it through. Why did I get involved? Because my buddy was unavailable today and the prospective member had the ear of a key church staff member. This church member thought he had been neglected, since no one responded to him. It’s not worth losing a person over a jot or a tittle.
Everyone Hates Cold Calling (including you)
So, let’s say that you’ve ignored the first three points in this post, and you’ve collected sign-up cards. You or your assistant or an intern or a dart board have now determined which groups each of these prospective members should try. You or your assistant or your intern send a list of new members to your group leaders. You would think the group leaders would be excited. Think again.
How would you feel if a list of six or seven names arrived in your inbox? You might send an email. You probably wouldn’t make a phone call. You might Google the names or check for criminal records. The last thing you want to do is pick up the phone. How do I know this? Because you just pawned off the assignment on your small group leaders. No one likes cold calling – not even salespeople.
It’s Bad for the Environment
Let’s say that you luck out in connecting sign-up card prospects with group leaders and half of them stick in a group. I’m a pastor. I am prone to exaggerate. Bear with me. If half are happy, then the other half are, well, unhappy. So, half of 50 people or 100 people or 1,000 people adds up to a lot of disappointed people. Oh, and who’s at fault? You are. You placed them in the group.
When the recently burned group member has left the group they didn’t like, what are the chances that they will try another group? Slim to none. As you extrapolate out the sign-up card fiasco over the years, well, a lot of people have a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to your groups.
And, as a concerned citizen, how many trees had to die to print your sign-up cards? (Sorry, after 18 years in California, I just can’t help myself.)
How do I know sign-up cards don’t work? I’ve had a small stack of sign-up cards sit on my desk for a week before. I secretly hoped they would fall into the trash can. I didn’t want to follow up on them, so I sent them to my group leaders. My group leaders didn’t want to fall up on them. No one was served very well and many people were frustrated with the whole process.
What should you do? Send $25 to…(just kidding). But, you will have to wait until tomorrow.
Pastor Kenton Beshore and Mariners Church started something six years ago that intrigues me.
I’m more than a little leery when a ministry presents a new strategy which they claim is the best thing since sliced bread. (I also wonder what the best thing was before sliced bread). I’ve been in ministry for a long time. I preached my first sermon 34 years ago. I’ve been part of the small group movement for the last 20 years. It’s not that I’m old — I’m only 51 and I have a two year old — I was called to ministry early in life.
There have been so many faddish things over the years. Some of them produced temporary results. Some produced no results. Just a few produced lasting results. I’m talking everything from the launch of bus ministry to the introduction of praise music to the comfort of seeker services to the impact of church-wide campaigns. Each one of those basically claimed their own decade from the 1970’s on.
People were saved. Churches grew. Impact was made. But, then they disappeared. Some strategies and ministry ideas had a much shorter shelf-life.
So, now that you understand my jaded, skeptical point of view, you can certainly understand why I very rarely endorse anything. I want to see how it plays out. Is this just the next new shiny thing that we pastors tend to chase after? Is this an attempt to copycat what’s working somewhere else in hopes it will work here? Then, I get real honest — is somebody just out to make a buck?
My Introduction to the Rooted Experience.
About nine months ago, Caleb Anderson, Lead Pastor of Mariners Church, Huntington Beach, CA, introduced me to Rooted. I was blown away. It’s not a program. It’s not merely a curriculum. It’s a catalyst that produces dramatic transformation. He had my attention, but I did go to school in Missouri, so he needed to show me.
Then, I began to hear story after story of transformed lives. People coming to Christ. Marriages saved. Addictions forsaken. Bodies and minds completely healed. Lives and finances surrendered to God. But, here’s the most intriguing thing — all of this was happening over a 10 week experience. Now, I really had to see this to believe it.
I was part of the Rooted Training in November of last year and met churches of many denominations, sizes, and locations who were telling similar stories. I’ve spent the last month on the phone with pastors from across the country talking about how lives are transformed, congregations are emboldened, and communities are impacted because of a simple 10 week experience in Rooted. My doubts were quickly erased.
What a Kenyan Church Taught Kenton Beshore about Discipleship
In partnership with a Kenyan church, Kenton Beshore was introduced to a non-Western, experiential learning process which was seeing dramatic transformations in Africa. Having exhausted many means of discipleship, assimilation, and church growth in the U.S., Kenton thought, “Why not bring Rooted (or Mizizi in Swahili) to Mariners?” The results have been remarkable.
After six years of leading the congregation of Mariners Church through Rooted, 90 percent of Rooted groups have gone on to become on-going Life Groups at Mariners Church with 70 percent of the group members continuing in the Life Groups. Rooted graduates have increased their giving by 82 percent and 70 percent have increased their serving. Now, imagine those kinds of results in your church.
Here’s the thing about Rooted, if you just perused the curriculum, you would probably find it fairly unremarkable in and of itself. In fact, at first glance it appears fairly uncomplicated, and yet those who have completed the 10 week Rooted journey have discovered the experience is bold, focused, and powerful. They have seen health in their members, their churches, and their ministries unlike what they’ve seen before.
Like I said, I am leery of new shiny things. But in Rooted, I have found something so remarkable and so special that I actually joined the Rooted Team.
Find Out More About Rooted
If my experience with Rooted has peaked your interest, I would like to invite you to a 45 minute webinar with Caleb Anderson, Lead Pastor of Mariners Church, Huntington Beach; Robin Riley, Chief Strategist, Mariners Church, Irvine, CA; and me on Thursday, May 5 at 1pm Eastern/ 10am Pacific. To register: CLICK HERE.
To truly experience Rooted, mark your calendars for the Rooted Gathering on June 16-17, 2016 at Mariners Church, Irvine, CA. For more information: CLICK HERE.
By Doug and Cathy Fields
If you’re a parent, most likely you joined the parenting ranks with good intentions and excitement. But then somewhere along the way, you lost your confidence. If this describes you — don’t worry — you’re not alone. Every parent struggles at some point because the truth is, parenting is difficult! After all, our children didn’t arrive wrapped in a how-to instruction manual.
So it makes sense that most of us wind up relying on something we refer to as Quick-Fix Parenting, which is exactly like what it sounds — a quick fix to a problem. It’s not necessarily a good fix or a healthy fix or an empowering fix, and it’s definitely not an effective long-term strategy.
At its foundation, Quick-Fix Parenting becomes about stopping your children’s behavior or the agony connected to it — which is often the your pain. It focuses on fixing your kid’s problem behavior, usually through verbal reprimands (often out of anger or frustration), negative instruction, and discipline for the sake of compliance.
But using these quick fixes to solve problems does not help kids grow up to become healthy and independent young adults.
So why do we resort to Quick-Fix Parenting?
Most parents embrace Quick-Fix Parenting for the following reasons:
• Their parents modeled it, and that’s all they know.
• It’s easier, more convenient, and relies on impulse rather than intellect.
• It can be effective in stopping and correcting a child’s behavior in the moment to quench potential conflict.
So, how about you – do you frequently find yourself using Quick-Fix Parenting? If you do, that’s okay for now. Most parents start here… but we don’t want you to stay here. Instead, we’d like to suggest that there’s a better way to navigate through the parenting landlines we all face with an intentional approach.
In contrast to Quick-Fix Parenting, which is reactive and spontaneous, Intentional Parenting is about having a long-term plan for how you want to parent your kids.
All of us have dreams for our kids. And caring parents passionately want their kids to become a certain type of person — one that’s prepared and well equipped to succeed in life. But they won’t actually become that person unless we as parents first define what we want them to be like.
To be an intentional parent, we would encourage you to make a plan for your children by beginning with the end in mind. Think about what types of qualities and values that you want you children to have by the time they get out of the house. Then, write them down.
These qualities should be based on inner values and not outer performance (i.e. grades, athletics, popularity, etc.). For instance, we decided that we wanted our kids to possess the “5 C’s”: Confidence, Character, Convictions, Compassion, and Competence. Yours could be similar or completely different. What’s important is that you articulate the qualities you’d like for your child to embody.
Deciding which qualities you want to instill in your kids for life will inform everything that you do as a parent, whether it’s being a role model, creating a peaceful home, using encouraging words, or providing discipline. We can’t promise that being an intentional parent will always be easy, but if you keep the end in mind and ask God to guide you along the way, you are on your way to having a huge, positive impact on the life of your child.
Doug and Cathy Fields
Doug & Cathy Fields have been married over 30 years and have three grown children. Their primary passion and joy have been family, but along the way they spent their years helping others — especially young people. They have worked at both Mariners and Saddleback Church in Southern California for three decades as youth, family, and teaching pastors. Doug is an author of more than 60 books, consultant, co-founder of Downloadyouthministry.com, and he the Senior Director of the HomeWord Center for Youth & Family at Azusa Pacific University.
Cathy and Doug speak together on marriage and parenting and have more information available at www.DougFields.com. For more information on Intentional Parenting pilot: allenwhite.org/ip-pilot
By Allen White
In my last 11 years of coaching over 1,500 churches in North America, I’ve observed that the senior pastor’s attitude and involvement in small group launches is more significant than any other factor in a church’s success. I’ve seen churches of 2,000-2,500 launch 500 small groups or more and keep those groups going forward. Another church recruited 30 percent of their adults on one Sunday to lead groups in their church. Now that wasn’t a church of 100 adults with 30 new leaders. It was a church of 4,000 with 1,200 new leaders. In all of these successes, the senior pastor was leading the charge.
Yet, many pastors have not seen the benefit and have not felt the need to focus on groups in their churches. In conversations with some of these pastors, I have discovered some mistakes in the pastor’s thinking which are holding back the momentum and impact of groups in their churches and communities.
Mistake #1: Relegating Small Groups to a Staff Member.
Most churches that are serious about small groups have already hired a small group pastor or director to oversee the groups. While the commitment to a staff position for small groups is significant, depending on a staff member to grow and maintain a high percentage of the congregation in groups is unlikely. Even the best small group folks out there typically can only maintain about 30 percent of a church’s adults in groups, unless the senior pastor takes a larger role.
Now, some senior pastors will argue that they do care about small groups, after all didn’t they hire staff members to oversee groups? Doesn’t that mean they care? Well, it does, but it doesn’t. If a senior pastor has relegated a small group pastor or director’s ministry to one of many ministries in the church, groups will not grow. If the senior pastor desires to connect the majority of the congregation into groups, then the pastor needs to get involved. While there are many dependable small group pastors out there, should the senior pastor turn the care of the entire congregation over to the small group pastor or director? Absolutely not. Would the senior pastor turn the entire weekend service over to the Worship Pastor? To connect a large percentage of the congregation into groups, the senior pastor must take the lead.
I’ve been an Associate Pastor for most of my 25 years of ministry. Once I discovered the impact my senior pastor had in inviting the congregation to lead groups, I never recruited another small group leader. That means after working seven years to connect 30 percent of our adults in groups, then watching my senior pastor recruit enough leaders to double our groups in a day, I haven’t recruited a single group leader since 2004. (I served two more years in that church, then served a whole other church since then, but I did not recruit any more leaders. My senior pastor did.)
As the senior pastor, you are the key influencer in your church. If you say the very same words your small group pastor/director would say, you will have three times the result. We’re seeing this across the country. Churches of 2,000-2,500 adults are launching 500 groups at a time. Imagine if 20-25 percent of your adults were leading groups. What would discipleship look like in your church? How would that change assimilation? What difference would it make in reaching your community? The answer is a huge difference.
Mistake #2: Using Someone Else’s Curriculum
Your members don’t need Rick Warren’s curriculum. They want your teaching.
The 40 Days of Purpose is by far the granddaddy of all church-wide campaigns. Some 30,000 or more churches went through the series with Rick Warren’s teaching on the curriculum aligned with the pastor’s sermon on the weekend. At first, it seemed the key to the campaign’s massive impact on a congregation was Rick Warren’s curriculum. What we later came to find out was the secret was not in the curriculum. The link to the senior pastor’s messages and leadership in the campaign made the results happen.
While I have nothing against Rick Warren or the 40 Days of Purpose, what I know now is that your congregation wants to be involved with what you are doing, pastor, not with what another senior pastor is doing. In fact, if your members are not already connected to each other in groups of some kind, I would venture to say the reason they attend your church other than Jesus is because of you. They like you. They like your teaching, your jokes, and your personality. When you offer your people more of what they already like — your teaching on a group curriculum — you will find greater interest and involvement in groups than ever before.
Mistake #3: Thinking Everyone Sees Small Groups Like You Do
Many pastors don’t want to be in a small group. Let’s face it. You’re busy. You have essentially a term paper due every week. You get called out at odd hours to help people. I’ve never met a lazy senior pastor. If there was one, then he got fired.
Small groups can be awkward for senior pastors. It’s risky for them and their spouses. If they talk openly about their personal struggles, where will those admissions go? Will open sharing somehow undermine their leadership in the church?
After 25 years of serving churches, I’ve come to understand that church staff, and especially senior pastors, are not normal. We are not like the rest of the congregation. We don’t focus on the things they think about. We aren’t motivated by the same things. Pastors have a unique calling on their lives that can only truly be understood by other pastors. What works for pastors is very different from what works for church members, and what works for church members is very different from what works for their pastors.
Senior pastors are surrounded by other believers on a daily basis. Every staff meeting is filled with believers. Every person they encounter in the office hallway is a believer. For the most part, the people they hang out with are believers. This is not the case with most people. They don’t have these regular interactions with other believers unless they worship with them, serve with them, and group with them.
Often pastors will feel guilty about promoting groups if they are not in a group. Here’s the deal: find something you can call “your group” and go with it. Whether it’s your foursome at golf or a pastor in a neighboring town you connect with, make that your group. You don’t have to do exactly what your members are doing, but you need to do something in community with other believers to set the example.
Mistake #4: Not Realizing the Benefit of Small Groups in Their Churches
If your church is larger than 250 people, then everybody can no longer know everybody any more. If your church is 400 or more and has two or more services, then your people can’t find the people they do know. But, the good news is everybody doesn’t need to know everyone, as long as everyone knows someone. This is where groups come in.
Much of the burden of care and support in your church could be served in groups. Imagine if the counseling appointments on your calendar disappeared because your people were caring for each other. Now, we all know that serious counseling cases would be referred to a professional counselor most likely anyway. But, those folks who need a listening ear, some encouragement, and prayer can find that in a group.
If groups are helping people grow as they study your curriculum, it may lessen the need for additional Bible studies or classes your congregation expects you to lead. Now, a word of caution here, don’t transition this too abruptly or you could have a mutiny. But, if you turn the heat up and talk for 90 minutes, your midweek Bible study will shrivel up in no time (just kidding…kind of).
Once people find their need for spiritual growth met in a group, some of the other offerings at your church will dwindle. Over time, they will disappear. The needs have changed. Imagine that day.
The pastors I know worry about a number of significant things in their church. Attendance, Spiritual Growth, Closing the Back Door, Outreach, and Finances are just a few. Research has shown that small groups meet all of these needs. In their recent book, Transformational Groups, Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger show how small groups are the solution for assimilation and spiritual growth. People in groups attend more often and serve more than people who are not in groups. And, group members also give more than other people in your congregation.
How should the senior pastor lead the groups ministry in the church? Take the charge. Create your own curriculum. Challenge your members to lead. By leveraging the weekend service to launch groups who study the pastor’s curriculum during the week, the church will grow and its people will grow. Senior Pastor, do you really think the small group pastor or director can do all of that alone?
Churches I’ve coached who’ve launched hundreds of new groups at a time were led by their senior pastor. Don’t blame your small group pastor for not doing your job. The church has only one leader. It’s time for you to step up.
I am offering a webinar for Senior Pastors on May 3-5, 2016. If you want to go big with groups in your church this Fall, you need to sign up. Don’t send a staff member. Register at allenwhite.org/webinars
By Allen White
The church wide campaign was introduced 14 years ago most famously by the 40 Days of Purpose and The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. Boy, the innovators and influencers who jumped into that one hit it big. I’ve heard stories of churches actually connecting more people into groups than they had on Easter Sunday. Those were crazy times.
There’s something great about being first. The first church to implement a new idea in a community usually reaps deep dividends. The first church in your town to introduce contemporary worship was probably looked upon with suspicion by other churches, but that church also outgrew all of their critics. Today, you can throw a rock and hit a church with contemporary worship. The same goes for seeker services, sermon note-taking sheets, or drama sketches in the service. (Okay, we gave up on drama sketches a long time ago. Not many could pull that off.)
But after all of these years, is the church-wide campaign still relevant?
1. Does Your Church Suffer from Church Wide Campaign Fatigue?
Some churches have overdone the church-wide campaign. They are aligning everything all of the time with the weekend service and making one big push after another. While the pastor will be preaching a sermon every weekend and small groups will be studying something, continuing to launch one church-wide campaign after another leads to campaign fatigue. The pastor just gets tired of promoting it, and the people get tired of hearing it.
If your church has successfully connected 30-50 percent or more of your groups using a church-wide campaign and the Host strategy, a church-wide campaign has probably lost its luster with your congregation. You’re not seeing the results you used to. While there are some exceptions, most churches can start off strong by running three church-wide campaigns in their first year, then they need to back off to one church-wide aligned series per year.
In the first year, groups need the continuity of starting with one campaign, then continuing into the next. But, once groups have made it through that first year, it’s harder to get them to align, which is okay. After all, the beauty of small groups is in the variety of things they can study, not in uniformity. There are some exceptions.
2. Who Should Continue Using Church Wide Campaigns?
Rapidly growing churches must continue running campaigns to recruit new leaders and form new groups just to keep up with the church’s dramatic growth. People who are new to the church need new groups to help them grow and find their way. Small groups are the best solution to the assimilation dilemma created in rapidly growing churches.
Churches in college towns or near military bases usually experience high turnover every year. Manna Church, Fayetteville, NC sits next to Fort Bragg. This church of 4,000 adults must replace 1,000 adults every year to maintain their current attendance. Church-wide campaigns have helped them start as many as 700 small groups at a time. What’s cool about this is the groups started at Manna Church are reassigned or deployed throughout the world. These small groups will soon become microsite churches. Churches with a revolving door like Manna’s can run church-wide campaigns from now until the cows come home.
3. Pre-Packaged Church Wide Campaigns Have Run Their Course.
Let’s face it. There is only one Rick Warren and one 40 Days of Purpose. I doubt we will ever see a phenomena like that again. While we cannot argue with the success of the second bestselling non-fiction book of all time, only part of the success of those church-wide campaigns came from the topic.
Granted a church must have a great topic to appeal to the community at large, but other factors also lead to the success of that first major church-wide campaign. Linking a small group study to the pastor’s sermon was certainly a key to success. While some might attribute connecting Rick Warren to the pastor’s sermon as the key here, I see it the other way.
Let’s face it, if people aren’t connected to each other, the reason they attend your church, other than Jesus Christ, is because of your Senior Pastor. They like his personality, jokes, and teaching. Now, don’t mention this to your worship pastor, it will break his heart. The Senior Pastor’s involvement with promoting 40 Days of Purpose and promoting small groups was the “It Factor” in the success of that campaign and any other. But, there is one more thing you can do for even more success.
4. Create Your Own Church Wide Campaign.
As I said, people like their Senior Pastors. If a church does a church-wide campaign with their pastor’s invitation for groups, they will recruit leaders and connect people into groups like never before. It’s a guaranteed home run, but it could be a grand slam home run.
In addition to their Senior Pastor’s leadership in recruiting group leaders and aligning a sermon series with a group study, if the Senior Pastor created a study with his own teaching, the church can hit the ball out of the park. Just in the last 12 months, I’ve seen churches recruit 20-25 percent of their adults to lead groups, which has put group participation well over 100 percent. By offering the pastor’s teaching on a video-based curriculum, the congregation is getting more of what they already like — their pastor’s teaching!
That might seem like a of work and a lot to figure out. I want to help you. I am putting together a six month coaching group specifically focused on creating your own curriculum and then launching the campaign in your church. You don’t need to pay someone tens of thousands of dollars to create curriculum for you. I can show you how you can do it yourself. If you would like more information, I am presenting a webinar called “Create Your Own Curriculum.” For specific times and registration: allenwhite.org/webinars or contact me at email@example.com.
Not everyone will see things this way. And, that’s okay. But, to state it honestly, not everyone is seeing the results I’ve seen in the last year. Last year, the average church I worked with launched 277 groups. This could be you (provided you have 277 people!).
For most churches, the pre-packaged campaign has gone the way of the dinosaur. If you’re still experience great success and have over 100 percent of your folks in groups, please correct me. For churches who’ve never tried a campaign, then buying one might help you make a good start. But, creating your own materials with your pastor’s teaching is the way of the future — it’s affordable, flexible, and best of all, it’s yours!
By Allen White
Michael Mack leads Small Group Leadership (www.smallgroupleadership.com), a ministry that partners with churches in making disciples in authentic, audacious community. He writes and equips leaders on the subject of small groups and teaches on small groups and discipleship at his alma mater, Cincinnati Christian University. He founded SmallGroups.com, has led the small group ministries in several churches, and is the author of numerous small group books and study guides. He and his wife, Heidi, and their four young adult children live in Pewee Valley, Kentucky.
Q1: Ok, you said to bring the tough questions about groups. A few years ago a pastor in Hawaii told me one of his new group leaders came to him and said the night before a man in his group asked, “How do I tell my wife that I used to be a woman before we were married?” How would you have advised this leader?
As Heather Zempel has wisely said, “Community Is Messy”! The truth is, small group leaders don’t have the answers to every small group question, and often neither do their pastors! Yet we serve the One who does have the answers, so the first thing I would do and advise this leader to do is to spend time in God’s presence, including in his Word, seeking his wisdom. After doing that, I’d tell the leader that the most important answer he gives this person is not the words he says but the love he gives him. As England Dan and John Ford Coley put it, “Love is the answer.” I’d tell the leader that this person in your group needs your acceptance, encouragement, partnership, support, and compassion more than a “right answer.” Be sure he knows you’re in his corner no matter what.
The pastor needs to ascertain whether this leader has what it will take to walk through this with this man in his group. Is he a shepherd? Is he willing and does he have the time, energy, patience, and spiritual and emotional maturity to help this man whom God has placed in his care? If so, he can move on to the following steps. If not, someone else from the church might need to be involved.
After I’d put those things in place, I’d counsel this leader to tell the man from his group to prayerfully find a Christian counselor whom he and his wife trust. The man should make an appointment with this counselor himself first to discuss this issue and seek the counselor’s advice. Then, if the counselor believes this is the best course of action, the man can invite his wife to join him in meeting with the counselor, at which time he can tell his wife this news.
The leader should promise the man he’ll be praying for him throughout this process, as long as it takes. He’ll support him as he takes strides to tell the truth, ask for forgiveness, and whatever steps he will need to take along the way.
Q2: A number of well-known churches have abandoned their coaching structures. Personally, I think this is a mistake. Why do so many churches struggle with a coaching structure for their groups?
I agree with you, Allen, that the coaching structure is critical in a growing group ministry, but it doesn’t have to be as complicated as some make it out to be. The reasons it’s a hassle are: (1) small group point leaders would much rather work directly with their leaders than develop a structure that inherently separates them from the leaders; (2) it takes time and effort to discover, develop, and deploy coaches, and you have to not do other things in order to accomplish it; (3) the point leader may need to recruit coaches out of their pool of good leaders, and who wants to lose or overburden good leaders? (4) Some point leaders believe they must use a certain coaching structure from some book, another church, or conference, and it all sounds intimidating.
I believe the church needs to develop a coaching strategy that actually works for them That might end up looking like the good ol’ 5×5 model, peer coaching, or something totally different. The key is to provide each leader with just the right amount of coaching they actually need; no more and no less. I developed a coaching model similar to Steve Gladen’s. We provided new leaders with a 1:1 coach, who was usually the leader of the group they were previously in. But this was short-term, until the new leader didn’t need that much oversight. Next, I had a team of coaches who would work with about 3-8 leaders who still needed some but not a lot of direction and support. The largest group of our leaders, however, those who were experienced or senior leaders, had what we called PEPs: Prayer and Encouragement Partners. These were mostly older couples who had led or even just had a significant role in groups. Their job was to get in touch with their leaders (about 10-30 leaders) once a quarter or so just to say, “How are you doing? How can I pray for you? and Is there anything you need? The PEPs also sent them birthday, anniversary, and Christmas cards. The leaders in this group knew where to go for help—to me or other leaders they knew, They also were the ones who would say, “I don’t really need a coach.” In fact, many of them were coaching other leaders.
The point is, this was a structure and process that worked well for us, but might not for someone else. God had already given me the resources I needed to put this structure together, so it made logical sense. I’d suggest that point leaders become very familiar with Ken Blanchard’s “Situational Leadership” model (Leadership and the One-Minute Manager) and use it in their training and coaching of leaders.
Q3: Give some examples of what successful coaching should look like.
From my answer to #2, it all depends on what the coach needs to do to coach that leader well. A new or inexperienced leader might need a bit more direction at first. But as the leader grows in competence, they probably need less and less direction and more coaching. As leaders become more competent, they need support—that is, praise, listening, and encouragement. As the leader becomes fully competent as well as fully committed to their role as a leader, the coaching becomes a delegation model; the leader can make almost all day-to-day decision on their own. Every leader needs to know they are valued; they need continual encouragement; and they need people praying for them and their vital ministry.
Q4: I first “met” you through your book, The Synergy Church. As Sunday school continues to decline across the country, what mistakes do you see churches making in transitioning from Sunday school to groups?
That was a lonnnnng time ago! I see two big mistakes churches make here. One is replacing one ministry for the other. Of course, that makes small groups the enemy in some people’s minds. Instead, I counsel churches to run both the old and the new parallel to each other. If it’s necessary to eventually replace SS with SGs (building space issues, for instance) continue to care for and support the classes and love the people there, while, at the same time, putting your energy into building your groups ministry.
The other mistake I often see is not really using a well-designed strategy to phase in the new small groups ministry. The point leader should be familiar with how the change bell curve (infusion of innovation curve) works, for instance. Develop a strategy to get from here to there and then work on all the tactics that will move you in that direction. The BIG question is not about what programs to use, but what our mission is and how we will accomplish it. Some churches have moved away from adult Sunday school and toward small groups … just because. Just because other successful churches are doing it. Just because small groups are the hip thing for churches to do. Just because Rick Warren’s church has small groups. None of those are great reasons.
Q5: How do you disciple people who are so distracted by the things of this world?
My good friend Murphy Belding always says, “The only person you can disciple is a willing one.” Willingness includes, I believe, a commitment to growing as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, and that commitment includes a willingness to live out Romans 12:2, not conforming to the world, but being transformed into a new person. So, I start with people who will make that commitment. This is what Jesus did, and when, as in the example of the rich young man, they are unwilling to count the cost and make that commitment, I must let them walk away from an authentic discipleship opportunity.
We must believe the truth that God is drawing every person to himself, that he is standing at the doors of their hearts knocking, asking to be invited in. If someone has not invited Jesus to come in and change them, I’m not going to get very far at all in trying to disciple that person. I think one of the key roles of teaching pastors is to call people from conformity to the world and into transformation. Small groups and one-on-one discipleship are environments where that transformation can take place, as the Holy Spirit works as only he can in a person’s life.
Q5.5: As the founder of smallgroups.com, which is now owned by Christianity Today, do you ever wish you’d kept it?
No. … Ask a closed-ended question and get a one-word reply! Yeah, like I could give one-word replies!
I believe God called me and gave me the opportunity to start this ministry, and early on I saw the potential of it, but then I also sensed that other people in God’s kingdom could move it to that potential better than I, so it was an easy decision to do just that. I’m simply a steward, not an owner of whatever God entrusts to me. A servant doesn’t get to keep anything.