For people who know me and know what I do for a living, the title of this post probably seems pretty ridiculous. After all, I am Mr. Small-Groups-On-the Brain. In this last season, I have help a couple of dozen churches recruit leaders and launch thousands of groups across the country. Did something go wrong?
No, but let’s think about the purpose of groups for a minute. Why are we so obsessed about group life? I am a big fan of groups because it creates a place for people to care for each other, apply God’s Word, serve together, and reach others. The emphasis is on the “small” part. A group fulfills the second part of the early church’s paradigm: they met in temple courts and house to house (Acts 5:42). There was a large public space and a smaller personal space. Groups work. But, maybe not for everyone.
Most churches already have something in place for these functions of care, application, service and outreach. Not all of these functions are in the same place, however. Adult Sunday School might focus on teaching and then care, but maybe not on service and outreach. A task group might focus heavily on serving, but not incorporate the other three functions. A softball team might have a care and outreach function, but not a Bible application or serving component. The question is do we swing the wrecking ball at the ministries that partially fulfill the list, or do we challenge them to become more well rounded? Before you give an answer, answer this question: If It Ain’t Broke, Break It?
This is really a question of form and function. Churches who embrace the form of small groups will sometimes go overboard and call everything a small group. If your church has 200 adult members with 30 in Sunday school, 40 on service teams, and zero groups, suddenly you can have 70 out of your 200 in groups. That’s 35 percent, which is much higher than the national average. But, just because Sunday school classes are now “small groups,” and service teams are now “task groups” doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything “groupish” happening at all.
Of course, you can also go the other way. You can throw a bunch of ill prepared people into a living room in a sink or swim fashion and suddenly have a high percentage of the much coveted “off-campus small groups,” yet what are they doing? Is care happening? Are they applying God’s Word and serving?
I’m not saying avoid small groups. I’m definitely not. But, what will small groups accomplish in your context? Why do you want small groups? And, “just because growing and effective churches have them” should not be your answer.
What is your answer? I’d love to hear it!
On Sunday, February 22, Pastor Perry Noble announced eight new campuses of NewSpring Church by the end of the year. In addition to four multisite campuses in Clemson, Greer, Simpsonville, and Northwest Columbia, SC, house campuses are being launched in Rock Hill, Sumter, Aiken and Hilton Head Island, SC.
Hearkening back to the start of NewSpring Church, Perry shared how 15 people started in a living room in 2000. In the same way, the house campuses will start in homes led by NewSpring members and supervised by NewSpring staff. Different from a small group, the house campuses will view a special edition of the NewSpring service together online and will include children’s ministry. Similar to a small group, house campuses are exponentially expandable and are only limited to the number of homes available. House campuses will offer pastoral care and ministry similar to a multisite campus. They are more than just a bunch of people watching an online service in a living room.
As house campuses grow, additional homes in the area will be added. If enough people begin to participate in the house campuses, there is potential to add a multisite campus to the area.
With a goal of reaching 100,000 people in the state of South Carolina for Christ, the house campus concept, similar to the microsite campus I blogged about a while back, has the ability to reach all corners of the state and any open living room. There is no cost for renting or purchasing a building, since the millions of dollars in NewSpring’s members’ homes will be leveraged to bring the Gospel and the ministry of NewSpring Church to any community.
Every church currently doing multisite campuses can launch new campuses in the same way. These microsite, house campuses can be launched anywhere from the small town out in the country to a group of scientists in Antarctica to a group of astronauts on the space station. There is no limit.
I can’t wait to see where requests for house campuses come from next. I love my church!
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By Allen White
A few days ago, I introduced the idea of the Microsite Church here on the blog. These are video “campuses” just like a multisite campus, except they can meet in much smaller places. Here are three reasons to consider them:
1. A Geographical Reason.
The planning, budget and staff needed to launch a multisite campus in either a permanent or rented facility is quite an investment. While launching a campus in a small city or metropolitan area is a no brainer, launching in a small town or a rural community is indeed more of a “brainer.”
If a church will repurpose the content currently used for its multisite campuses into a living room friendly version, a campus can meet in any town in any place in the world. In fact, a microsite campus could be the trial balloon for a multisite campus down the road or it can be a tool to reach a community that you haven’t reached before.
2. A Demographic Reason.
Microsite campuses don’t have to be limited to remote areas. Think about how a microsite campus could serve even in a community that already has a multisite campus. Why would you need them?
Getting to church is hard for some people. Job schedules, special needs children, health issues and other reasons make it difficult to travel or maybe even to fit in at a large campus. With microsite, you can bring the service to them.
Some might object by asking why an online campus couldn’t serve them just as well. I am all in favor of using the internet to reach people. In fact, I had an online small group on CompuServe in 1992. But watching a service online is much different than worshipping in a community of believers. Issues that isolate people shouldn’t keep them out of a church community either. Microsite campuses are certainly a possible solution.
3. A Political Reason.
I spent some time with the pastors of an awesome, rapidly growing megachurch in a metropolitan area recently. They are reaching the lost in powerful ways. But, there is one limiting factor — their city won’t allow them to build on the 400 acres they actually own! The political climate is completely unfavorable. Multisite could be the answer, but in this political environment, that could be shot down too.
I made an offhand remark to them. My friends would be disappointed if I hadn’t. I said, “Maybe it’s time to just go underground.” I know that thought seems radical and extreme. It’s something we might imagine only under a dictator or a Communist regime. But, let’s face it, the church has lost the culture war and is living in an exceedingly secular climate.
Microsite could serve two purposes here. The first is unbelievers who are invited to a microsite could not only experience the service, but see the Gospel lived out in the lives of the group gathered at the campus. Rather than watching the service projected on a large screen, their experience is more up close and personal.
Second, it’s not illegal anywhere that I know of to have a dozen or so people over to your house. Some HOA’s might have parking restrictions. You’d have to abide by that, but it’s not impossible. Campuses would only be limited by the number of willing members who would open their homes to one.
The final reason to consider microsite is that one the code is cracked for your first microsite campus, you have a unit of one. If it can work in one home, it can work in many homes.
There are more thoughts to think and things to discuss. Join in on the conversation. I’d love to hear from you.
By Allen White
Multisite churches have multiplied ministries and reached the lost very effectively over the past decade in the US. What started as a desperate need for expansion at Seacoast Church’s Mt. Pleasant, SC campus and the subsequent denial by their city council to let them expand led to the launch of a new model that duplicated services across counties, states and eventually countries in the case of churches like Saddleback. The fix to a zoning problem became a launch pad for evangelism. Now, for the next wave.
A while back on a coaching visit to Seacoast Church, Josh Surratt mentioned to me that a family from their church had moved to the state of Maine and had 40 people meeting in their living room every Sunday watching the Seacoast service online. I said to Josh, “Maybe it’s time to redefine what a campus is.”
Prior to this, a multisite campus had always been a designated building, either rented or owned, some distance from the main/broadcast/original campus that provided a pastoral staff, worship, children’s ministry and other things associated with a church. Now there’s an opportunity for a new model that requires less overhead and could be put in any situation in a town of any size anywhere in the world.
While many churches will reach into the suburbs or into other metropolitan areas, few churches are reaching into small places. I don’t think it’s on the radar to plant a multisite campus in Possum Kingdom, South Carolina, the hometown of Bo and Bear from the band Needtobreathe. If you’re not familiar with Possum Kingdom, it’s right next to Honea Path. There are a lot of towns that no one’s ever heard of before and some of them have very strange names but every town has a group of people who could make up a microsite church.
Now some would object and say, “Doesn’t every small town have some sort of a small church already?” and the answer is yes. The problem is that we live in a national culture. We watch the same television programs and listen to the same music whether we live in New York City or in Podunk Holler, Arkansas. Small churches in small towns cannot compete with what the culture has to offer. It’s just hard to get people’s attention. There are churches, however, that have proven to develop effective ministries in our culture that have a broad reach. By bringing a microsite campus into a small town, you can bring in the quality and effectiveness of a large church ministry and package it for a living room. You could reach not just thousands of people in a metropolitan area but dozens to hundreds of people in a small town. If you do the math, there are more people in small towns than there are in large cities.
The idea of Microsite Churches is seminal at this point. A few churches are beginning to pilot this model or are considering a pilot. Let’s think about the keys to a worship service: you need music of some sort which can be prerecorded on video with subtitles and offered in a living room either through a download or DVD. You need teaching. Teaching on video is very common. I worship at a very large multi-site church and the teaching is by video. I’m at a multisite campus I have only ever met the senior pastor one time, but the video teaching makes you feel like you’re really there. The fact is when churches have the pastors on a screen, people will watch the screen even if the pastor is teaching live in the room.
There are a lot of things to think through: giving, childcare, counseling, marriage ceremonies, etc. But, let’s start with these few paragraphs and discuss what might be next. What do you like? What do you not like? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
The new year is an awesome time for new starts. Everyone is planning to lose weight, lose debt, learn a foreign language, and of course, grow in their faith. The new year is an ideal time to start new groups too. Why not leverage the momentum before mid-February hits and new year’s resolutions crash and burn?
The way you launch groups in the new year, however, will greatly affect your success. While this is an ideal time to form new groups, how and when you form groups will largely determine whether or not those groups last for more than one series, or in some cases, even get started. Here are some mistakes to avoid in new year’s launches.
Mistake #1: Launching in Early January.
Senior pastors love to start new sermon series after the first of the year. While the first Sunday of the year may be for vision casting or giving a “State of the Church” address, when it gets to the second Sunday, they are ready to get their preach on and dive into a new series. This is great for sermon series timing, but terrible for group timing.
If your church launches groups in early January, it forces you to form groups in December. Have you lived through a December at church? No one is thinking about January. If they were, then they wouldn’t be buying so many Christmas presents on their credit cards.
Over the years, I’ve tried to recruit and train new small group leaders in December. I’ve also found myself standing in an empty room wondering if I had missed God’s calling on my life.
People don’t think about the new year until they are actually in the new year. To effectively launch groups in January, you need to use the first three weeks to form groups, then launch in late January, or better yet, launch in early February.
Mistake #2: Failing to Leverage the Christian Holiday of Super Bowl Sunday.
I know some of you might immediately be objecting to associating something as holy and spiritual as a small group with something as hedonistic as Super Bowl Sunday. After all, promoting anything about the Super Bowl will only weaken the attendance of the Sunday night service. At least, that’s the way I grew up.
But, think about this: how would your members respond to the idea of small groups if it resembled something that looked more like their Super Bowl parties and less like what they fear a small group might be? No one calls the church to see who they should invite to a Super Bowl party. They invite their friends, co-workers, neighbors and family members. That’s the same group they should invite to their, well, group. In fact, if groups were launched after the Super Bowl, maybe the Super Bowl party could serve as an “open house” for a group and then the next week, the study could start.
You may be saying, “Well, not every Super Bowl party would be suitable to introduce people to small groups. They might overeat or something and be a bad witness.” These things could happen. But, what if a small group became more “normal” to the average Christian’s life?. That would be a huge win.
Mistake #3: Launching Groups in January without an Easter Plan.
The downfall of most church-wide campaigns, including some I’ve launched over the years, is you can experience great success for 6 weeks, then the whole thing falls off the cliff. But, it doesn’t have to. If in the middle of your post-Super Bowl series (formerly called “New Year’s series”), you announced a next step series which would run between the Christian holidays of Easter Sunday and Memorial Day, you could easily retain 80 percent of the groups that start in your Super Bowl series. By offering a next step, your groups are given a good reason to stay together.
Now, if your church is about to launch groups this Sunday, it might be time to take a timeout and regroup. Call an audible. Do what you need to do before you have to throw a Hail Mary or punt!
If you try this, you should get at least 50 percent of your people connected into groups. If you don’t, call me. We’ll figure something out!
Well, this has been quite a year on the blog. I don’t post much. In fact, my reader feedback tells me that the infrequency of my posts is a plus, which works with my hectic schedule.
This year had one huge surprise. A few days after Robin Williams’ death, I woke up in the middle of the night in a hotel room in Chicago and felt like I should say something to curtail some of the hatefulness I had been reading online. Not only was this post the most read post of all time on my site, it was the most read post of all time on Rick Warren’s pastors.com! We will miss Robin and his talent dearly. What an amazing individual. Here’s the post along with a few other “most read” posts for 2014:
And, of course, the funnest post of the year:
And, there was one controversial post I wrote about the Host Home Strategy that I had to take down. Email me if you want to read it.
As long as you guys will read, I will continue to write (infrequently).
Happy New Year!
By Allen White
Rick Warren has talked about his small group in messages at Saddleback Church and at conferences around the country for years. But, who is this small group? I’ve known for quite a while because I work for Brett Eastman, one of the group’s members.
Last Sunday, Rick and his group did something remarkable — Rick Warren’s small group presented the weekend message together live on the stage of Saddleback Church. Watch this message called “Fighting for Awesome Friendships” and see Rick’s group in action. The group includes: Rick & Kay Warren, Tom & Chaundel Holladay (Tom is the group leader), Glen & Elizabeth Styffe, and Brett & Dee Eastman. Watch here: http://mediacenter.saddleback.com/mc/m/44B1D
One of the reasons Saddleback Church has maintain an unusually high percentage of its members and attenders in small groups is because of Pastor Rick Warren’s example. He doesn’t just talk the talk, but he walks the walk on small groups. If your pastor is not in a small group, his heart isn’t in small groups either. Think about it.
Fall is a prime season to launch groups in churches across the country. In my consulting work with Lifetogether Ministries, I am working with churches from Florida to Washington and Southern California to New York City. 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!)
Learn the lessons from your failed attempt. There is no shame in failure, but there is shame in not learning.