When you fly, you count on sameness. Good planes, good service, on-time departure — these are the things frequent fliers enjoy. Anything out of the ordinary is unwelcome.
When things become out of the ordinary on a trip, like someone brings out the snack cart at your gate, it is the kiss of death for an on-time departure. Of course, I enjoy the snacks. They help to cover the taste of bitterness from a lackluster travel day. Same is good. Snacks are good. The reason for snacks is not good. On one recent flight, the snack cart contained sandwiches. I just rented an apartment at ATL for a few days.
One day I discovered the airline made a big change on purpose — not to every flight at every gate, just the gate I was leaving from. It was an experiment. They were running a pilot of a new way to board the plane. It was NOT the same, but it bore some promise.
At a Terminal B gate at ATL, just down from the Popeye’s with great service, the boarding area was laid out completely different. First, the gate agent announced a free valet service to place your carry on bag above your seat prior to boarding. At first everyone was skeptical. After all, if you travel frequently, you understand there are only two types of luggage: carry on and lost. (If you at all envy how much I travel, you are sick in the head by the way. It’s the closest I get to taking the bus).
Then, rather than all of the passengers ganging up to bolt onto the plane as soon as “Sky” was called after “Premium,” the airline changed something else. Sameness was gone. They had laid out three lanes on the floor like we were boarding with a 50 yard dash. Suddenly everyone was reliving the early days of Southwest Airlines when you stood in line for 60 minutes to grab an exit row seat.
Above each lane was a screen indicating where you should line up. Lane one: Premium (First Class), Lane two: Sky Priority (People who live on planes), Lane three: Zone 1. Ready, set, board. It worked pretty good, once we figured out what we were doing. No other gate at any other airport Delta flies had this system. Just this one gate. It was a pilot.
People like to know what they can count on. Now, in any organization some of those things are becoming outdated or ineffective. They need to change. Change is not wrong. But those who experience change feel a sense of loss, even passengers boarding planes. We had already figured out our angle to get on first. Now, we have to rethink it.
Rather than wrecking everything you’ve got, try a pilot. It’s more important to engage folks who are marginally involved than to upend your current system in favor of something newer and shinier. And, in the process you just might save your own tail. As John Maxwell says, “If you’re one step ahead you’re a leader. If you’re ten steps ahead you’re a martyr.”
Pilot something new. Live to tell about it.
I wrote this post last Fall as a postmortem of a church’s group launch after a colossal failure. They ignored some fundamentals, allowed their communications department to take over the messaging, and the whole thing would have tanked except for an 11th hour appeal. Please take the following into consideration, so they next postmortem won’t be about your launch!
Fall is a prime season to launch groups in churches across the country. In my consulting work with hundreds of churches across North America, I am working with churches from Florida to Washington and Southern California to New Hampshire. Among churches of various sizes and denominations, we are seeing some tremendous results. But, not every church hits a home run with their group launch. Here are some reasons why.
- You picked the wrong topic.
Small groups are a great vehicle for people to grow spiritually. But, in order for people to grow in a group, they need to actually be in a group. If a church’s goal is to connect their congregation into groups, then a felt needs topic is very attractive. If you give people something they want to study, they will jump right in. If you offer something they “should” study, it may not go so well.
Let me go on the record: Healthy, balanced small groups cannot live by felt needs topics alone. But, kicking off groups usually doesn’t go well with series on evangelism, stewardship, fasting, or other self-sacrificial studies. You need to establish your goal. If you want to increase the number of groups, then go felt needs. If you want to grow your people deeper, then offer these topics to your established groups.
- You set the bar too high.
The more requirements for group leadership, the fewer leaders you will recruit. If you required all of your new leaders to be church members, complete a lengthy leadership training process, or graduate with their Master of Divinity, you certainly limited the number of groups you could launch this Fall.
Your level of acceptable risk will greatly determine the reward. If you invite people to do a study with their friends, then you are only limited to people with friends. If you increase the requirements, you lessen the impact.
If you choose to lower the bar next time, then lessen the risk by forming “unpublished” groups. If the groups don’t appear on your church’s website, group listing, or bulletin, you are not implying any kind of official endorsement of the groups. If friends invite friends, you will form good, lasting groups, and if someone gets in a bad group, well, it was their friend’s group after all.
- You focused on recruiting group members.
As a pastor, if the invitation is for potential group members, you may or may not actually start groups. You will certainly give yourself a lot of busy work trying to find enough leaders to accommodate the prospects or trying to place people in the right group. But, you’ve missed the mark and the point.
If you have a bunch of prospective group members, you might have a group. If you have a leader, you WILL have a group. In fact, the best way to get into a group is to start a group — you’re automatically in! When the focus is on recruiting leaders, you will greatly increase your number of groups. If your focus is on members, you will probably just end up with a mess.
- You put too much distance between the invitation and the response.
When you or your senior pastor made the invitation for people to start a group, how and when did they respond?
If they were sent to the church website to register, they didn’t go.
If they were sent to the church lobby, they walked right by.
If they were invited to a meeting in the near future, they forgot.
If they had a sign up card in their hand during the service, bingo, they’re in!
If they were sent an email to remind them to sign up at church on Sunday, they forgot again.
If they were sent an email with a registration link, then they signed up.
The less distance between the invitation and the response, the greater the result.
- You gave too many steps from “Yes” to starting the group.
If the pathway from the response to the group starting took too many steps, then you lost leaders at every phase.
If you recruited months in advance of your group launch, there were too many days before they started. Cold feet and good intentions didn’t get them there.
If you required a training class, a membership class, a pastoral interview, a group orientation, a group connection, and a final debrief meeting, you lost, lost, lost, lost and lost new group leaders.
If you kept the steps to a minimum, based on your own acceptable level of risk, you kept far more than any of the above scenarios.
- Your recruitment period was too short.
A few years ago, I was working with two churches of similar size who were launching groups on the same week. One church recruited 20 new leaders. The other recruited 60. The first church recruited leaders for one week. The second church recruited for three weeks in a row. Triple the recruiting equaled triple the result. You do the math.
- Your senior pastor was not on board.
If your senior pastor was hesitant about your next series in any way, it hurt you. Half-hearted appeals and hit or miss invitations lead to lackluster results.
If your senior pastor didn’t make the invitation for leaders, that was a huge miss. The senior pastor will get three times the result of any other staff member. I’ve served as an associate pastor for 20 of my 24 years of ministry. As soon as I learned this, I never made the invitation again.
How do you get your senior pastor on board with the series you recommend? You don’t. If you want your group launch to succeed, you have to get on board with where your senior pastor wants to go. If you respect your senior pastor’s direction, you will see respectable results. If you try to pressure your senior pastor into a series that is not his idea, you are on your own (literally).
Last Sunday, I worshipped with a church who had never had small groups. Their senior pastor decided it was time. He cast vision for groups. He kept the response close to the invitation. He focused on recruiting leaders. He did it all right. Then, on Sunday afternoon, 360 new group leaders showed up for training (and they have two more weeks to recruit!)
Between January and May this year, we have helped 12 churches launch nearly 3,000 small groups. One church of 2,500 adults now has 500 small groups. Another church of 4,000 adults recruited 1,200 people to LEAD groups. A church in the Harrisburg, PA area has grown by 7.5 percent over last year, and giving has increased by 7 percent because of connecting people into groups. Big things are happening if you follow these principles.
Learn the lessons from your failed attempt. There is no shame in failure, but there is shame in not learning.
Download my Free Ebook: Exponential Groups
Watch my Free Webinar: 4 Keys to an Exponential Group Launch
Trying anything new involves a certain amount of risk. Some people jump into things haphazardly and take foolish risks. Others hold back and risk little or nothing. Sometimes no risk is riskier than the other options.
The bottom line is change causes a sense of loss. You’re saying goodbye to the way things used to be and welcoming something new, sometimes unproven. It’s risky business for sure.
If we risk too much on the wrong things, we ended up bankrupting the leadership credit we had in the bank. But, if we don’t risk any change, we are just burying our leadership “talents” in the ground, which really doesn’t help anyone.
The fear of every pastor is that change will alienate the base. If the stakeholders become upset, they might leave, or worse yet, they might stay but just stop giving. If the change alienates the base, reduces giving, and ultimately costs the pastor his job, then why would anyone want to take a risk?
It’s possible to take risks that aren’t so risky. There’s a big difference between a strategic risk and reckless abandon. The approach makes a big difference.
How much risk are you comfortable with?
Kirby Holmes lives in the progressive and post-modern city of Austin, Texas. He is currently a Small Groups Pastor at the main campus of Gateway Church. As a ‘No Perfect People Allowed’ church that is effectively reaching people at the crowds edge Kirby often navigates cultural hot topics in his group’s ministry. He is the central Texas huddle leader for the Small Groups Network. Kirby is currently working on his Master of Arts in Global Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary.
Q1: Austin is a very cool town. You’ve got SXSW, millions of bats under the Congress Avenue Bridge, and a very progressive culture for Texas. How is ministry different in Austin than in other places?
KH: Some might consider Texas the Bible belt but I can assure you Austin slipped through one of the holes on the belt. It is a progressive, post-modern, and primarily a post-Christian city more like Portland or Boston. We expect people who interact with our church community to be skeptical, cynical, and have real questions about faith and religion. We also expect that most people are not Biblically literate and equate most of the Biblical stories to myth.
Q2: A lot of churches launch groups with a church-wide campaign. Is a campaign something that has worked for you? Why or why not?
KH: Yes, we have seen success with church-wide campaigns. We typically align our church calendar to have two group campaigns a year, one in September and one in January. We have found people are willing to try a group if the whole church is in on it. It gives people a chance to try community but also explore a topic that meets a need in their life (relationships, work, bad habits, exploring spiritual life, etc.). We usually have a strong communication push for the campaign leading up to a Connection Event that happens in the courtyard of all of our church campuses. During the Connection Event people go and meet group leaders face-to-face and sign up for a group. Group campaigns help connect people from the crowd into groups. It is also a great way to onboard new group leaders with a clear specific path for creating a new group.
AW: One follow up question which does NOT count in the 5.5 questions (what?): what do you require of your group leaders before they can lead?
KH: There are high-bar, low-bar, and open-bar (bottoms up!) approaches to group leader qualifications. Gateway is currently using a high-bar approach. Gateway does not have a membership process. We do, however, have a leadership process we call Commissioning. We see the early church in Acts commissioning those who are being sent into specific roles of ministry in the body. Paul indicates in his letter to Titus and Timothy the character of leaders who should be commissioned by the church. We base our leadership process on these two big ideas. Our Commissioning process has three parts: personal, private and public. The first part is a personal 21-day journal that an emerging leader goes through on their own to reflect on Scriptures and questions related to our churches mission, beliefs, values, and commitments to being part of our Commissioned core. The second part is a private conversation with one of our staff about the their reflections in the journal. The third part, if the staff commissions them, is to have a public ceremony in front of our whole church body on a Sunday morning for every new person being Commissioned. We have these ceremonies three to four times a year.
Q3: My impression is that many of the folks who attend Gateway don’t have much of a church background. How is ministry at Gateway different from what seminary prepared you for? (If my assumption about Gateway is wrong, feel free to blow me out of the water.)
KH: Ministry at Gateway is more like a missionary endeavor. Often time’s seminary trains church leaders to exegete Scriptures to be good teachers, but not how to exegete culture to be good missionaries. We have been intentional to exegete the culture, not just the Scriptures, so we can be effective missionaries to people. Many of our church staff lived on the field in global missions before joining the staff at Gateway. I think this has helped our understanding of some of the current realities in the changing cultural landscape.
Q4: You are a very likable guy and always seem to have a great attitude. What keeps you inspired? Or is this all a ruse?
KH: I am not always inspired, or even liked, but thanks for thinking of me that way Allen.
AW: I may be thinking of a different Kirby then.
KH: One time, when I was a university student studying architecture, I was working on a project late at night with an impending deadline that week. With tired eyes, I was working on drawings and a clay model when I had an experience with God. God told me he wanted my life to be more about people than projects. My notes about this encounter with God were written in my project notebook and I even presented them to my professor. Over the next few months I accepted God’s invitation to become his servant missionary to people. I have made it my goal to be approachable with people. God’s shaping activity in my life causes me to be likable because it serves the church when we are a community in relationship with one another.
Q5: Tell us about the most recent hard lesson you’ve learned in ministry.
KH: I met with an emerging leader last week and there were areas in his life he wasn’t open to getting the help he needed. It is discouraging when people choose to stay stuck. Sometimes creating a Come-As-You-Are culture where No-Perfect-People-Are-Allowed gives people in our church a sense that there are no commitments needed, or growth required, in following Christ. Sometimes when people want to take steps into leadership and I have to tell them, “Not yet.” People will respond to me, “I thought this was a No-Perfect-People church!” and I remind them that we say Come-As-You-Are but don’t Stay-As-You-Are. While some people respond to the challenge of maturing in their relationship with Jesus, and make progress in their character formation, others aren’t willing to embrace the kind of change Jesus wants to do in their life. Seeing people walk away from the church, and Jesus, because it is challenging and asks for change can be discouraging.
AW: Ok, here it comes, the half question. Ready?
Q5.5 How many times have you been to the Salt Lick? And, if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you?
Allen, I have been to the Salt Lick plenty of times. I have been for wedding events or just to hang with the guys. Their smoke pit and display racks are like a vision of meat heaven. However, my wife Meredith and I have plans to go to Franklin’s BBQ this week which has been voted the best BBQ in the country. We will line up at 9am in the morning hoping to get into Franklin’s at noon. Even with a 3-hour wait there is no guarantee of getting the best-smoked meat on the planet!
AW: Now, imagine if you served Franklin’s BBQ at Gateway…
AW: Now, I’m hungry.
Some launches go better than others. Over the last 10+ years of group launches both in the churches I’ve served as well as churches I’ve coached, we have seen some significant progress and we’ve seen some incremental growth. Whether your launch feels exponential or expected really comes down to your grasp of four keys.
1. Is Your Senior Pastor All In?
Having been an associate pastor for over 20 years, I know that if I invite people to lead groups, I will get 30 percent the result of my senior pastor. How do I know this? Well, after reaching the seventh year of my five year plan, I only had 30 percent of our adults in groups. The first time my senior pastor make the invitation, we doubled our groups in a day, and within six months, we had 125 percent of our average adult attendance in groups. Now, that’s not funny pastor math. Not everyone attends every Sunday, but they will go to their group. And, we had a good number of people who had never darkened the door of our church join groups as well.
Let’s face it, if people aren’t connected to each other, the reason they attend is because of the senior pastor. My family is part of NewSpring Church at the Greenville, SC campus. We don’t know a lot of people there, but Kidspring and Fuse are stellar for our children, and Perry Noble, well, he’s pretty amazing.
When the senior pastor stands up and makes the invitation for people to gather their friends and grow, it’s huge. Now, what will help both your senior pastor and your “unconnected” people get on board with groups is creating your own curriculum with your senior pastor’s teaching. Your pastor’s teaching + your pastor’s invitation + your pastor’s message series aligned with the study is a Win/Win/Win. For more on engaging your senior pastor, check out my free ebook, Exponential Groups.
2. Is Your Topic Relevant to Your Community?
The topic of your series will creating determine who is included and excluded in your launch. Obviously, there has been huge success with topics like 40 Days of Purpose by Rick Warren and One Month to Live by Kerry Shook. What is your community, not your church, but the people in the place you live concerned about? What previous sermon series have had an appeal? The right topic will make a huge difference.
A few years ago, I was coaching a church in Baltimore. I asked the pastor what his series would be for the new year. He said, “I’m thinking about doing a series on dying.”
I said, “You’re killing me, Frank.”
While everybody will die, people usually don’t want to be confronted with that reality. It ended up being a great series, but not one to launch an exponential number of groups. Whether you talk about relationships, stress management, conflict resolution, or something else, think about what would draw the most people into the topic.
3. Will Your Coaching Structure Support a New Influx of Leaders?
More groups will stall before the start of a series than will stop after the series. When someone steps up to lead, they have just painted a huge target on their back, and the enemy will try to discourage them in every way possible. They will invite friends only to discover some can’t come on Tuesday night; others are already in another groups; and a couple of them really aren’t their friends. In that moment, they need someone to encourage them or that group is toast.
A few years ago, a couple in our church, Ray and Pam, left a group they loved to start a new group. (I’m not longer in that forced birthing business by the way). I asked them on a Sunday morning how their group was going. They said, “Not very well. We think it was a mistake to leave our group and try to start our own group. We have invited 20 people to our group, and they all turned us down. We shouldn’t have left the group we loved.”
Trying to contain my panic, I said, “Ok, you guys had an idea of what your group should be. Now let’s pray and see who God wants in your group.”
A week later, Ray and Pam called me, “Pastor Allen, please stop sending people to our group. We have 14 people, so we are maxed out.” Now, how many people had I sent to their group. Well, none. God answered our prayer. Their group started around 2003 and continues under different leadership to this day. But, if I hadn’t had that conversation with Ray and Pam on that particular Sunday, that group never would have happened.
Your coaching structure (or lack of one) will be completely overwhelmed by a successful launch. But, you cannot leave those baby groups unattended. They need care and encouragement. Ask your existing group leaders and other mature members of your church to check in on the new leaders weekly from when they say “Yes” until the end of the campaign. This will greatly increase the success rate of your group launch. After all groups that don’t start tend to not continue. For more on enlisting new coaches, check out this video interview I did with Steve Gladen and Brett Eastman.
4. What’s Next?
Now that your head is swimming about what the topic of your series should be, you also need to have a next step curriculum ready for groups to continue. The reason so many groups fell off the cliff at the end of 40 days was because they weren’t given a specific next step. If you send them to christianbook.com or a book store, they will get lost in the choices. Most new groups don’t have a real opinion of what to study next. In the middle of your first campaign, give them a next step to continue their group. If you can get a group to complete two back to back six week series, you’ve got them. They will continue from there with some coaching, training, and direction.
Your success in your next group launch will be greatly affected by which of these four keys you implement. If you go four for four, you can certainly see exponential results. If you implement two of these and neglect the other two, you’ve probably halved your result as well.
If you would like to learn more about experiencing your own exponential group launch, I’d like to invite you to a free webinar on Wednesday, August 5 at 1:30pm ET/10:30am PT. Click here to register. Registration is limited to 25 seats, so register now.
I met a remarkable man yesterday named Ralph.
Ralph is an employee at Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen located near gate B14 at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. ATL is my second home.
Rushing between gates yesterday, I decided to stop in for some spicy chicken. The line wasn’t long, but the tables were full. My eyes darted around trying to find a spot. If I couldn’t find one, then I’d be dining at my gate, which usually results in something spilled on my shirt. I was headed home, but nonetheless. Then, Ralph walked up to me.
He said, “Would you like a table?” Of course, I did. Then, Ralph said, “I will have this table ready for you right here. And, what would you like to drink?” I hadn’t even ordered yet. I told him sweet tea, then he said, “Alright, just stay in line to place your order.”
Once I had ordered and paid, my table was ready. Ralph had provided me with my drink, napkins, a plastic spork, and a straw. This is not what I expected from Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen at the airport.
As I ate, I noticed Ralph approached every customer in line and asked if they would like a table. If a couple was standing together, he would seat the lady and ask the gentleman to stand in line to place the order. I don’t know whether Popeye’s is trying a new strategy or if this was unique to Ralph, but it was quite remarkable.
Ralph was no ordinary dining room manager. Ralph was the maitre de at Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen at gate B14. He provided a level of service you never expect at any fast food restaurant except for maybe Chick-fil-A.
Next time I’m in the ATL, which will be soon, I will stop by Popeye’s near gate B14 again, but not just for the spicy chicken. I’ll stop by for Ralph and the spicy chicken.
What does your organization or business do when someone’s eyes are darting around looking for a solution? The regulars will make their way to where they need to go. But, new people will be looking around perplexed. What are you intentionally doing to help them? How’s your hospitality?
You need a Ralph, or a team of Ralphs
Starting today, I am introducing a new monthly post called “5.5 Questions with…” where I will be interviewing small group experts from across the country. Today in the hot seat we have Rick Howerton and his 5.5 answers to my 5.5 questions.
Rick Howerton is the Small Groups and Discipleship Specialist at LifeWay Church Resources. He has authored many small group studies, is a highly sought after trainer and speaker, and is the author of Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual as well as A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic. He is also the co-author of Disciples Path: A Practical Guide to Disciple Making and Countdown: Launching and Leading Transformational Groups. But Rick’s deepest passion and his goal in life is to see, “a biblical small group within walking distance of every person on the planet making disciples that make disciples.”
Q1 Tell us about your first small group.
RH: The first small group that I led was actually a group of college students. I was a twenty-something year old seminary grad without a clue concerning what a small group was (Having come from a traditional Southern Baptist pastor’s home, I’d never even heard the term) or what a small group was suppose to do. I simply did a swan dive into relational community in the best way I knew how. The experience was very organic and, I would imagine, much more transformational for me that for those college students. They were amazingly patient and I was embarrassingly green.
Q2 You work for Lifeway who has been a stalwart for Sunday school for decades, centuries, millenia. Nowadays, Lifeway has become a major source for small group curriculum. How did that change come about?
RH: About fourteen years ago LifeWay made a strategic decision to connect with and partner with small group churches. I was hired at that time. A few years later LifeWay purchased Serendipity House, one of the premiere resource providers of small group Bible studies at the time. It was at this time that LifeWay began to build her reputation as a ministry aiding small group churches as they make disciples through small groups.
But, in the last two or so years, LifeWay has wisely realized that, in order to meet the many needs of small group churches, she needs to be more than just a Bible study provider. Because of the many helps LifeWay offers the small group world, our Bible studies are becoming more known. A quick list of offerings for small group pastors in 2015 alone is noted below. You may be shocked.
- 4 small group conferences (Small Group Beta Conferences) for untrained small group pastors (if the attendee can get to Nashville LifeWay takes care of all expenses)
- GROUPS200 featuring Steve Gladen, Bill Donahue, Bill Willits, and myself
- Groups Matter Conference bringing together leaders in the Sunday School world as well as the Small Group world
- On Point online small group point person conference
- Ongoing online training via the Ministry Grid
- Groups Ministry blog
- Ken Braddy blog
- Rick Howerton blog
- Smallgroups.com, customizable Bible studies
- Research as revealed in the books Transformational Groups and Transformational Discipleship
- Weekly Groups Matter podcast
- A plethora of small group Bible studies
Q3 “A plethora” wow! You created the Groups Matter initiative to launch 100,000 groups. How is that going? How can pastors and churches get involved?
RH: The goal of the Groups Matter initiative was to see 100,000 new groups started in two years. At present, there are 46,296 groups registered. To join the movement go to www.groupsmatter.com.
Q4 What emerging trends are you seeing in small group ministry?
RH: I’m seeing multiple trends in the groups ministry movement.
- Discipleship – For at least a couple of decades the groups world had as its mantra, “creating community.” The conversation has transitioned from focusing on creating community to, “making disciples.”
- Doing Sunday School and Small Groups Side by Side – Not so long ago few churches would’ve even considered doing both Sunday School and small groups. As of the last two years this has become a major movement. In fact, the largest audiences I have when leading regional training conferences are when I’m doing a day of training for churches presently doing Sunday School that want to add small groups.
- Sermon based Bible studies – It seems many pastors long to see their groups discuss the Sunday sermon. This has led to many churches creating their own questions for discussion based on the weekend sermon.
- Mid-size groups – While this isn’t a major movement right now, there is some discussion in some groups circles about mid-size groups meeting in homes. These would be any groups over 12. In fact, the size of the home determines the appropriate group size.
Q5 If you could turn the clock back in ministry and start over, what would you have done differently?
RH: Allen, I think the one thing I’d do differently, is spend more time with God daily, memorizing His Word, and studying biblical theology. I’ve tried to make up for lost time but I don’t know that I will ever be able to gain the knowledge I believe is necessary for a groups pastor in today’s post-Christian era.
Q5.5 Ok, the half question: Country or bluegrass?
“You should be in small groups” sounds like the modern version of “Everybody ought to go to Sunday school” to many church goers. The only problem is “ought” is not a strong motivator for most people any more. Give them a cause to champion or an environment to connect, but if “ought” is the only tool in your toolbox for connecting people into groups, then they’d probably “ought” to try another church.
If everyone else thought exactly the way small group pastors and directors did, they would all be small group pastors and directors. The problem, of course, is there would be no one left to direct. Face it. People in our churches don’t think like we do. How can we think like them?
When pastors and directors make invitations for folks to join groups, there’s usually a mixed response. Some will join up. Others can’t or won’t. If they were driven by “ought,” they would understand “if you really love Jesus, truly desire to grow spiritually, and want to go to Heaven, then you ought to join a group.” They’re not buying it, so we should quit selling it. Why are some folks resistant to our efforts to get them into groups?
1. I’m too busy.
Everybody is busy. Students are busy. Retired people are busy. Parents are busy. We’re all busy. Busy is not so much an excuse, but a sickness, but we’ll have to save that topic for another day.
“I’m too busy” really means “I have other priorities. I have better things to do.” People have time to do the things they want to do. If you’re getting “I’m too busy,” then they are choosing something else over small groups.
In order to put small group higher on their lists, they will need to demote or eliminate something else. Most people don’t make changes like this unless they are convinced there are compelling reasons a group will benefit them, or if they are in a considerable amount of pain and need support. People who are busy, but generally okay, won’t feel the need.
In order for people to say “yes” to a group, they will have to say “no” to something else. In order for people to make that “yes,” they need a clear and compelling reason to join. If you offer groups for a limited time period, a trial run, and offer groups at times that could fit in their schedules, they might give it a try. But, there are even better reasons to join. Read on.
2. I already have friends.
Years ago, Leith Anderson gave an illustration of people being like Lego bricks. Every Lego brick has a certain number of dots on the top of it. Some have one or two. Others have eight, ten or more. In a person’s life, each dot represents a relationship. So, think about your relationships: spouse, children, parents, other family, friends, co-workers, sports team, book club, parents of your kids’ sports teams or activities, and the list goes on. Most people have all of the dots on their Lego bricks filled. Where do you put a group?
But, think about it this way: how can you help people leverage their existing relationships to form small groups? They don’t need to divorce their friends to join a small group. Their friends are their small group There is great power in asking people, “Who in your life would enjoy or benefit from a group study?” Very quickly, group formation will go well beyond the four walls of any church. Why reconnect people who are already connected?
3. We have kids.
The easier your groups make childcare, the easier it is for people to join a group. Whether the group pools their money to hire a babysitter or rotates responsibility for the kids among group members, this is a necessary part of groups for young families. Once the group is established, then everyone might be able to secure their own babysitter, but especially at the beginning, childcare should be made as easy as possible. For more on childcare solutions, go here.
4. I’m already involved in ministry.
Serving is a great way to engage with the church body and allow God to use them. A ministry responsibility is also a great way to get people connected to the church. Serving responsibility creates a real sense of ownership. But, activity doesn’t guarantee community. This can be addressed in a couple of ways.
Think about this: what are the goals for your groups? Most groups are built on the idea of community around a Bible study. The idea is to create a place where people are known and know each other. They care for each other, support each other, and share God’s Word together. If those are your goals for groups, can those goals be accomplished in a serving team?
This is more than ushers joining hands before they pick up their stack of bulletins, but that could be a start. Serving teams can share personal needs and God’s Word together. This may involve a meeting apart from the serving opportunity. The last thing any church wants is for folks to feel the church only cares about what they do, but doesn’t care about them.
Serving is better than just talking, but a balanced approach is better still.
5. I had a bad experience with a group before.
Most people who’ve participated in groups over the years realize groups aren’t perfect. As Steve Gladen from Saddleback Church says
There are good small groups, and there are not so good small groups. Every group has a different style and personality. One size does not fit all. But, a bad experience in one group doesn’t guarantee a bad experience in every group.
A six-week commitment to one study is a great way to test drive a new small group. If the group works, then they can stick with the group. If the group doesn’t work, it was only six weeks and not the rest of their lives. They can leave the group in good conscience for having completed six weeks and now consider themselves off the hook.
6. I don’t trust other people with my life.
This statement comes from a lot of pain. Granted, there are some people who aren’t worthy of trust. But, when someone globalizes distrust to nearly 7 billion people on the face of the earth, there’s certainly a deeper issue.
Distrust comes from fear. “If I let others in my life, they will only hurt me.” Fear requires a very compelling reason to even think about opening yourself up. If the person recognizes this is a personal issue, then the first step . A regular small group won’t be the cure. In fact, this person’s presence in a life group or Bible study might create a bad experience for everyone else.
When this person has worked through the root issues, then they should be welcomed into a group with open arms. For the present, if the person literally trusts no one, then counseling would be the recommended route. If the person does have a couple of friends, then he or she should start the study with just those friends. Obviously, this person isn’t going to start in an uncomfortable place. Where is a comfortable place to start?
7. I’m wise to small group pastors. They just wants to form groups just to break us apart.
I’m all in favor of multiplying groups, but I’m also aware of some very effective group models from other parts of the world that don’t work so well in North America. People are aware of these strategies. Some have survived them. Others have strongly resisted. Small Group Pastors: It’s time to turn over a new leaf.
What we callously refer to as multiplying, dividing, and birthing groups is translated as encouraging people to develop close relationships only to later rip out their hearts and make them change groups. The positive spin of the term “multiplying” really feels like a divorce.
While we would never want a group to become ingrown or stagnant, unless a group feels the pain of an overcrowded house or a declining group, they are not willing to change simply to fulfill our agenda. To address this issue, simply vow to your groups that you will no longer ask them to multiply, divide, split or birth. Over time, the need will arise on its own.
Look at it this way: the world is fully populated all by natural means. No family needed their pastor’s coaching to fill their quiver. By encouraging the positives of inviting and including others, groups will eventually see the need to subgroup and then form new groups.
8. My relationship with God is personal.
A believer’s relationship with God is personal, but it’s not private. While every believer should experience quiet times alone with God, God didn’t intend for us to live our lives alone. Jesus, Himself, lived a life in community with His disciples. God lives in community as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Before I was in a group and before I was even married, I was a great Christian in my own mind. According to the feedback I was receiving, I was an awesome Christian. I kept away from the things I shouldn’t do and did many things I should. But, back then, most of the feedback was coming from me. I was very understanding of myself. I knew why I excelled at some things and failed at others. Sure, I could have worked harder, but I was tired. I needed to give myself a break.
Letting other believers in helps us to discover things we might have been denying. We also get folks to encourage us and allay our fears. The Bible has much to say about encouraging one another, building each other up, spurring one another on and so much more. Faith is lived out in relationship, not in isolation.
People resistant to group life need help crossing the bridge. Some need a challenge. Some need encouragement. Some need an easy entry point. Everyone in our churches comes from a different place – spiritually, emotionally and geographically. By offering multiple entry points into groups, we can serve their needs for community rather than expecting them to fulfill our need for effectiveness or success.
Have you ever worked with a flaky youth pastor, or an uncaring care pastor? Has your church, business, or organization left precise tasks to someone who settles for “good enough?” They aren’t necessarily bad people as they are in the wrong roles or are attempting to live up to an unrealistic set of expectations.
Your flaky youth pastor may just be the next visionary leader in the church. Visionaries are rarely organized or schedule. Do you fire him and get a boring youth pastor, or do you staff around his weaknesses?
Your uncaring care pastor is quick to size things up, yet impatient with the process of counseling others. Since those in need probably won’t quickly shape up, the uncaring care pastor needs to be reassigned to a project where he can charge the hill rather than stroll through the meadow.
What if you knew what you were going to get before you made a hire? What if you looked at the best staff you had and determined what personality traits they had, so you could determine who to add to your team? What if your small group had better insights into each other and became more understanding of each other?
How high is your XQ?
Time Magazine asked this question in their June 22, 2015 issue. The answer actually goes back for years. Yet, people analytics is not as commonly used as it should be, especially in the church world. The new trend toward studying Behavioral DNA is significant for hiring the right people, leading them, and helping them to understand each other.
Human-resources professionals in major companies are now looking for the X quotient in hiring, promoting and even terminating employees, according to Time. The article coined the term “XQ” or “X quotient” simply because there is no other way to quantify it. Maybe that’s the point.
In order to fight employee turnover, increase productivity, and raise customer satisfaction, companies and organizations are turning to expensive, time consuming solutions like Cattell’s 16 personality factors, the Hogan Personality Inventory’s seven scales, StrengthsFinder, or the Caliper Profile’s 22 traits. Online resources such as Infor claim to analyze over a million job candidates a month. Why does this matter? Can’t you just go with your gut?
People analytics will help you in an important range of team dynamics.
1. Adding new staff or team members.
Whether finding qualified candidates is feast or famine, more than a strong resume is required to find the right fit. People with the right schools, degrees, and experience may or may not fit the bill. The metrics from People Skills, who I’m certified with, point to the core of who the person is, how they go about things, and how they will fit with the current members of your team. While anyone with determination can work hard to fulfill any role, eventually that person will burnout and will probably take the team down with them. If you put a highly relational person in a cubical with a computer for data entry, they will last for a while, but they will either wander away from the cube to find people or they will find another job, even lower paying, where they can interact with others. Behavioral DNA has much to do with job satisfaction and performance. Having this info at the beginning of the interview process will help you to select the right candidates and can confirm some things you are probably already sensing.
2. Improving staff and team interactions.
John Maxwell says, “People don’t see things are they are. We see things as we are.” If I am a very driven, performance oriented person, then I see people who are highly relational as being slackers. I think: “Why can’t they just cut to the chase? Why can’t they make a decision? Why do we have to have another meeting about the same thing, again?” But, they aren’t like me, nor I them.
The person I’m looking at is probably looking back at me saying, “Why doesn’t he take time to really get to know people? Why does he only care about the work and not the team? Why doesn’t he take time to make sure everyone is on the same page before charging forward?” It’s two sides of a coin. Well, actually, it’s 16 sides.
By taking your team through people analytics, they will gain a better understanding of themselves as well as why other people on the team bug them. In fact, Behavioral DNA gives teams a language to filter and interpret other people’s behavior. They begin to view personality differences in a more amiable way. While there are certainly people with personality disorders, personality differences are a far cry from disorders.
3. Setting people up for success.
A quote often attributed to Albert Einstein goes, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Putting right people in the wrong roles is a recipe for disaster. But, the right people in the right roles is magical.
If someone has the personality of Attila the Hun and is given a role to precisely detail the steps of a process they invented, it won’t work. You need a detail person to document the process, and you need to allow Attila to charge the next hill. If you take someone who doesn’t want to rock the boat and put them in charge of innovating something, it will never move forward. The innovation will rock the boat, which is exactly what they are trying to avoid. There are many more examples. Think about the folks who are thriving in their role, then think about the folks who are withering in theirs. What’s the difference? It could be misapplied people analytics.
Whether you lead a staff, a team, or a small group, the X quotient is significant to the effectiveness and harmony of the group you lead. An understanding of their X quotient will help determine the appropriate role for each person and the way they go about it. As the Time article says, “A meticulous thinker is no better or worse than a big-picture mind, but it’s pretty clear which one you would like to have doing your taxes.”
4. Use People Skills.
A friend of mine, Vicki Barnes, developed the People Skills inventory about 25 years ago. By validating the findings with other well-known people analysis tools, she developed an easy, affordable solution for human resources professionals, non-profit organizations, churches, and even small groups. The one hour staff, team, group, or volunteer training offers a great alternative to lengthy online profiles and assessments which essentially provide the same information.
The only way to get a better sense of the tool is to try it yourself. Click Here to sign up for a one hour webinar on Wednesday, June 24 at 1:30pm ET/10:30am PT. You will need to take the online assessment before the webinar.
By Allen White
When I was a kid, summer started when school was out just before Memorial Day and ended just after Labor Day. We had enough time to actually wonder what we would do with ourselves. Sure, there was a week of church camp and a family vacation in there, but there were weeks and weeks of playing outside and watching old reruns, if we were fortunate enough to have a mom who wasn’t hooked on soaps.
Today, summer starts the second week in June and ends about the middle of August. It’s about six to eight weeks, if you’re lucky.
Many groups automatically decide to break for the summer. It’s just what they do. They assume that it’s too hard to get together or that they’re group members are too busy, so why bother gathering as a group? But, when was the last time you rethought your assumptions?
1. Who’s gone for the entire summer anyway?
We go into summer making a few assumptions like “Everybody’s busy traveling, so we might as well not even try to get together as a group.” In a normal year, most families do one big vacation and maybe a few day trips. While everyone in your group probably won’t take vacation on the same week, they also won’t be gone for the entire summer. Before school ends, ask your group about their summer schedules, who knows they might be available after all?
2. Your group may be the spiritual resource for the summer.
In this age of staycations and day trips, people tend to be busier on the weekends than during the week. Few of us could be categorized as the idle rich. Yes, it’s summer, but we’ve got to keep our day jobs. While your group might be headed to the mountains or the beach on the weekends, they’re in town Monday through Friday. They might not be around for church services on Sunday, so your group gathering might be the consistent touch they get during the summer.
3. Your group doesn’t need to meet every week to be spiritual.
If your group meets every week, then meet every other week or meet once a month during the summer. The key is to keep the relational connections up. Ask your group to bring their calendars and see when most of the group will be in town. Even if you can only get together once or twice during the summer, do it. I’ve even seen groups spend vacations together, go on camping trips, and even take a cruise together.
4. Your group doesn’t need to have a Bible study every week to be spiritual.
Have a party and invite prospective members. If you live in the South, grill out. If you live in the rest of the world, have a barbecue. Ask everyone to bring something. Invite the neighbors, but be sure to only invite people that you actually like.
Serve together with a local organization. Is there a neighborhood school with projects, but their funds were cut this year? Is there a yard in your neighborhood that needs work? Is there a single mom or an elderly person who could use a hand? Is a member of your group moving?
Change it up with your group. While some groups will meet 52 weeks of the year, the frequency of the meetings is not nearly as important as keeping in touch over the summer. You never want to give your group the impression that you only care about them September through May, and not as much during Christmas break.
Oh, and on the being spiritual part, we are spiritual beings, so everything we do is spiritual. Our spirituality involves every part of us, not just worship services and Bible studies.
As your group heads into summer, take time to ask what the group would like to do together. Don’t assume that everyone is busy and that no one wants to get together. If you as a leader need a break, then ask other group members to host a party or head up a service project. You’re not alone.