By Allen White
Okay, let’s rethink the question a little bit, then we can tackle the issue. Forced accountability is less like having a spiritual coach and more like having a probation officer. Since most group members aren’t working hard to avoid incarceration, making group members accountable is a failed enterprise. The title of that book would be “How to Lose Friends and Frustrate People.” I don’t think that’s what you have in mind. Here are some things to consider in developing group member accountability:
1. Why do you feel your group members need accountability?
Either accountability works well for you or you’ve heard that it does. Whether you’re starting a new habit or forsaking a bad habit, the help and encouragement of another believer can be a great support and motivator. If your group members are asking for accountability, that is a beautiful thing. If you think your group members need accountability that they’re not currently seeking, well, that’s a whole other deal. Proceed with caution, unless you are exercising your gift of martyrdom on this one.
Think about what led you to see accountability was a good thing for you. More than likely, this was a process for you. It wasn’t a gut reaction. You thought about how accountability could help you. You thought about what would work for you. You thought about who would coach you. It took a little time. Your group members probably aren’t there yet.
Give them insights into how accountability has helped you, before you pop the question. Just casually bring up accountability during the group meeting. You might even start with a praise during the group’s worship or prayer time, “I am thankful for my accountability partner. This relationship has really helped me maintain (a consistent quiet time or kept me in the gym or whatever it was.)” You have to show them on the value of accountability.
“But, this will be good for them. We need to just get started.” Imposing accountability on unwilling group members will backfire in a big way. It will be about as popular as the brussel sprouts you serve instead of brownies at your next meeting. Your group members want to grow spiritually. You have found a tool that will help them get there. Now, you have to give them the “Why?” and not just impose the “What.”
2. What accountability is your group open to?
Every believer is at a different place in their spiritual journey. In fact, no two believers walk identical paths. While Jesus is the only way to Heaven, each person’s background, wounds, victories, personality, gifts and passions are very different. What works for one will not necessarily work as well for everyone else. One size does not fit all.
The only accountability that works is the accountability that your group members actually want. They may very well want to forsake a bad habit or develop a good one. Accountability may be the perfect tool to get them there. But, only if they ask for it.
Once your group members have bought into the concept of accountability, there is nothing wrong with asking the group members what they would like accountability for.
3. What accountability has the group agreed to?
Your group has already agreed to some things that require accountability. Your small group agreement outlines each member’s responsibility to the group. If your agreement puts responsibility on your members to let the group know when they can’t make a meeting, then they have consented to accountability in that area. The same with the other areas of agreement: confidentiality, active listening, etc. If someone violates something in the group agreement, then you should definitely ask them about why they broke one of the ground rules for the group.
Tomorrow’s Post: Accountability that Works
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink (Read my review here).
By Allen White
In partnership with Greg Hawkins, our team created a Pathway series for churches who wanted to draw their members into greater intimacy with God. Drawing from the work Greg and the REVEAL team conducted when he served as Executive Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL, We created a three part study based on the well-documented principles of REVEAL. The idea was to create a framework for any pastor to customize the series for their local church.
Pastor Don Wink, The Lutheran Church of the Atonement, Barrington, IL, came to us wanting this exact series. He wanted to see the 300 adult members of his ELCA congregation draw closer to God and to form an on-going small group ministry there.
Don along with his staff pastors and volunteers shot all 18 complete sessions including teaching, host introductions, testimonies, and leader training in a two day shoot at their church. All of the sessions were both scripted and personalized for their team and their church.
The Atonement team revised the original study guide manuscript to fit the language and culture of their church. This included a personal introduction from the pastor along with hundreds of photos representing church life. Our team compiled all of these materials and designed full color study guides to go along with the series.
The first study in the series, Faith, was launched in Fall 2014. Pastor Don and his groups team challenged their congregation to fully participate in the series by gathering their friends in their homes for not just a six week study, but a year of transformation! Don held interest meetings with stakeholders both in his home and at the church. He also made an invitation to the entire congregation. Group hosts attended briefings where they received their marching orders and materials.
The church had duplicated 600 copies of their study guide. When the dust had settled, this church of 300 adults had distributed 580 study guides. But, the story gets even better.
In January 2015, the second installment of the Year of Transformation series was launch, Hope. All of Atonement’s current groups continued except for one group. Not only that, all of the existing groups added members for the second study. This continuation was far more exciting than the original launch.
What could your church do?
By Allen White
Do you have a detail person in your group? You know. The one who catches typos and corrects any inaccurate dates? This is the Planner. Out of the four core personality types: Producer, Planner, Promoter and Peacekeeper as articulated by Vicki Barnes in her book, The REAL You, the Planner personality is concerned with systems and order.
If the Planner had a motto, it would be “A Place for Everything, and Everything in Its Place.” Planners choose careers from homemakers to attorneys to accountants to engineers. They tend toward perfectionism and are concerned about every detail. If you want to make a Planner’s day, then give specific appreciation to the details of what they did. Rather than making a general compliment like, “You led a good Bible study,” you want to get specific, “I really liked how you brought out the cultural background of that passage. It really put that Scripture in a whole new light for me. They will be thrilled.
Planners will follow the rules and probably add a few of their own. They may be determined to go through every question in a study guide, which is not really necessary. Just so they can sleep at night, the group leader should inform everyone that there are too many questions to possibly cover in one lesson, so we have selected a few key questions to discuss. The group is welcome to explore the rest on their own.
Luke the Evangelist, who authored the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, represents the Planner personality. Luke was a Gentile believer and does appear in Scripture until the middle of Acts when the pronouns change from “they” to “we” (Acts 16:10). Yet, Luke wrote a Gospel. In fact, he was the only Gentile and the only non-eyewitness to do so. This is where his Planner characteristics come out,
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4).
It’s not that Matthew or Mark had done a terrible job. It’s not that the Holy Spirit was absent from the inspiration and revelation necessary to pen Scripture. Luke, as a Planner, needed to thoroughly investigate things himself and share the conclusions with his disciple, Theophilus. While Peter couldn’t sit still long enough as a Promoter to write himself, Mark wrote on his behalf. Paul, the Producer, didn’t need to rewrite the Gospel. He was too busy breaking new ground. Luke took the time for careful research. He was a Planner.
Planners are going to, well, plan. They will plan an event. They will write an instruction manual for the event. They will write a dissertation on the manual for the event. They need to be given reasonable expectations and a deadline, then get out of their way.
Planners tend to be the least spontaneous of all of the personality types. They prefer to make a plan and stick to a plan. It will frustrate them to hear a constant flow new ideas, when the plan has already been set. Scraping the plan is even worse. If they’ve worked hard and something has shifted, you need to take time with them and give them plenty of detail for the change. Otherwise they will feel very unappreciated.
They can be accused of being nitpicky and critical. This mindset can often lead to negativity and depression. Typically, Planners have low self esteem, so build them up. Planners wrestle with the mixed motives of belonging and contributing. They are pulled between thinking and feeling. They grapple with relationships and tasks. What they pour into a task demonstrates their regard for relationship, but they may become so absorbed in a task that the relationships are set aside.
Planners are wonderful gifts to groups and teams. The Promoter will get a great idea. They always have ideas. The Producer will be ready to execute, but will be short on the details. The Planner can turn the Promoter’s vision into reality and help the Producer improve on what they are doing. The Peacekeeper is the most concerned that everyone is ok.
For more information on People Skills workshop on Personality Types, CLICK HERE.
By Allen White
My family spends a week each year in a quaint old farmhouse with no television. “Quaint” and “TV” don’t really fit. I always bring a variety of books just in case one of them ends up being a dud. This year I brought a John Grisham novel (it doesn’t matter which one–they’re all the same); In Love and War by James and Sybil Stockdale (Jim Collins just mentioned it one too many times); and The Search to Belong by Joseph Myers (which was on Carl George’s nightstand).
Joe Myers’ book was the first book of the week. I enjoyed his writing style, well, until I actually began to pay attention to what he was saying. Then, it just made me mad. In mid-paragraph I would stop reading to myself and begin to read the book aloud to my wife. “Listen to this guy: Joe Myers says, ‘A church of small groups? Sounded like forced relational hell to me’” (page 10).
“Exactly,” my wife responded.
“You, you can’t say that. I’m the Small Groups Pastor. You can’t say that.” This was a matter of job security. The last thing I needed was bad P.R. from my co-leader and spouse.
I continued to read much like I watch Christian television or slow to see the wreckage of a car accident. With each page turn I anticipated that this guy would finally hang himself. What exactly was he getting at? What was his agenda? Did he envision the church as some sort of YMCA-like gathering place where belonging overshadowed belief?
The more I read, the more irritated I became. Jesus didn’t commission us to go into the world and connect people. Yet, Joe Myers so much as invalidated “fully-devoted followers.” What about Acts 2:42?!!
This book that I loved to hate gave me a key insight: Everyone in our congregation WAS already connected. Maybe not to each other, but they were all connected to somebody: a family, friends, co- workers, neighbors, and other church members. My job changed with one epiphany: I no longer needed to connect the unconnected. I just needed to invited folks to do a 6-week DVD-based Bible study with people they were already connected to. How simple is that?
I’m pleased to say that in our Fall campaign this year, just over 1/3 of our groups were formed exactly this way. Each week a group of friends, co- workers or neighbors are gathering in a home, a break room, even on a train and studying God’s Word.
Thank you, Joe Myers for writing the book that I love to hate.
By Allen White
When our team first met Steve Poe, Lead Pastor of Northview Church, Carmel, Indiana, Steve already had 75 percent of their 4,000 adults connected into groups. They were intrigued with what we were doing with churches and how we were developing curriculum, but did they really need us?
The answer was “Yes,” but it was a different kind of partnership from many churches we work with. Rather than starting with a blank slate and launching a ton of new small groups with a church-wide video-based series, we had to come up with a solution to help the 1,000 plus remaining adults say “yes” to groups when they had been saying “no” for a while.
Pastor Steve had the idea for creating a family series, but didn’t really have the bandwidth to write six new talks for the curriculum video. Like many pastors, Steve had years and years of great content, so our team mined his previous sermons and created scripts for the 10 minute videos we needed for the series curriculum. Once the scripts were written, they were passed back over to Steve to make sure they sounded like him and not someone else.
With scripts in hand, the church gathered a group of 30 people to participate with Steve in the teaching portion of the shoot. Now, this wasn’t just an audience to teach to, it was a group to interact with. This went even one step further, not only did the group offer feedback and their experiences on camera, the setting also provided Steve with a way to model groups for the entire church.
Once Family Matters was completed with a small group DVD and study guide, we came to the challenge of turning 1,000 “No’s” into “Yeses.” Rather than recruiting “host homes” where people were either assigned to groups or prospective members chose a group from the church’s website, the new strategy took things entirely organic in approach.
Every member of Northview Church was invited to gather a group of friends together and grow spiritually. Then, we all waited. Had we reached the saturation point? Could we break the ceiling above 75 percent in groups?
After three weeks of recruiting “hosts” for “groups” without using either of those words, 200 new groups were started in addition to the 3,000 folks who were already in groups. A new series launched shortly after Family Matters ended helped to retain the vast majority of new groups. We think any church would be happy with that.
With little time for preparation and a challenging target for groups, our team innovated on both the pre-production for the shoot and the strategy to start groups. The result was a huge win for Northview Church and Pastor Steve.
By Allen White
Group member’s personalities certainly have an impact on the dynamics of the group. For about 20 years, I have taught Vicki Barnes’ The Real You people skills training. Based on a study of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Vicki’s own research, this training gives great insights into group dynamics as well as team relationships. (If you’d like me to lead one for your team, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Over the next few posts, I want to explore the four personality types plus one bonus post. We’ll be looking at the Producer in this post as represented by the Apostle Paul. From here we’ll examine the Planner, the Promoter, and the Peacekeeper plus the bonus.
A producer is known for being bold and drawn to action. The Apostle Paul is a great example. He was definitely a dynamic leader both for and against the church. A producer’s biggest concern is power and results. I’d say Paul certainly had results.
Paul says of himself, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” (Romans 15:20). He didn’t set out to thoroughly research and write his own version like Luke, which is very much Planner behavior. Paul wasn’t impetuous like Peter, our Promoter. He also wasn’t trying to avoid rocking the boat like we see with Abraham. Paul wanted to break new ground, fish or cut bait, poop or get off the…you get it.
In a group, the producers concern will be over pace and results. They won’t have a lot of tolerance for long winded stories or discussions that go round and round with no clear conclusion. Now, please understand that even though this describes producer behavior, it is not license for bad behavior. Producers can learn patience just like everyone else.
A producer’s motto is “get to the bottom line.” In a group, the bottom line can be reaching the end of the study, taking on a group project, making a hostile takeover of another group so your group can grow. Ok, maybe not that last one.
Producers typically have the highest self-confidence and the lowest self-esteem. Their persona will be to charge any mountain, but their minds they are only as good as their last accomplishment. When a producer has a setback, they will try to “slogan” themselves into a positive attitude: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” (Thomas Edison) or “Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.” (Og Mandino). Now there is some truth there, but as a group leader, realize that a producer with a devastating setback is feeling it more deeply than they let on. Now, this isn’t permission to start delving into their wound. They probably won’t open up and share. But, their pain can certainly be exhibited in other behaviors like escapism, over-working and certainly irritability.
Producers will help the group get things done. Sometime producers will get things done at the expense of speed bumping the relationships in the group. They will plow through a lesson to get to the finish, but may not pause long enough to discuss a heartbreak in one of the group member’s lives.
If you want something done, put the producer in charge, but maybe not in charge of the prayer time. Like all of us, producers can learn and grow to become more like Christ. Jesus is working in them, even if it feels like you might be dealing with Attila the Hun. Remember, Saul who became Paul on the road to Damascus.
Becoming a Christian doesn’t give us a personality transplant. After all Dr. Billy Graham has shown tremendous producer behavior. Remember when he was challenged about his trip to Russia years ago? Someone told him Russia wouldn’t accept the message of Christ. Dr. Graham replied, “They will when I leave.”
The ambitious producer nature of Paul’s personality accomplished much for the spread of the Gospel. What can the producers in your group help you accomplish?
For more information on my workshop, CLICK HERE.
To pick up a copy of Vicki Barnes, The REAL You: Making Sense of Relationships: CLICK HERE.
By Allen White
Video-based small group curriculum has been with us for over a decade now. Early innovators like Rick Warren and Brett Eastman at Saddleback Church brought the local pastor into the living room. Brett went on to found Lifetogether.com, which has sold about 4 million units to date. Many other video-based studies have followed and have succeeded.
With all of the professionally produced video curriculum out there, why would a church want to create their own? While well-known pastors have produced some excellent studies, your pastor’s face on the screen presents some strong advantages for your congregation.
1. Takes the Weekend into the Week.
The hustle and bustle of life tends to edge out the Sunday morning sermon after a day or so. While some sermons are remembered better than others, most are long forgotten by mid-week. By providing small groups with studies based on the weekend message, the points made on Sunday can take deeper root.
By creating space in the small group to review the weekend message via a short video (no more than 10 minutes), the group has a chance to review the points, ask questions, discuss issues and make a specific application to their lives. Giving groups the opportunity to think about the message and what it means to them causes the group members to retain more. In groups they can involve more of themselves in the teaching. Rather than simply listening and maybe taking notes, group members can wrestle with hard questions and get the encouragement and accountability they need to live out the message.
2. Engages the Senior Pastor’s Teaching Gift.
A senior pastor without a teaching gift is not a senior pastor for long. This is the most public and most personal role of any senior pastor. Speaking is hard work. Even the most gifted teachers spend hours gathering material, studying, collecting illustrations, and polishing their messages. Once Sunday is finished, for most pastors, the countdown clock to next week’s sermon begins. The one they worked so hard on for this week is now a thing of the past. But, it doesn’t have to be.
What if the pastor could sit down in a living room with his church members and teach them the part he couldn’t get to on Sunday morning? What if in that circle the pastor could share his heart about what the Bible passage means and what it would mean if people started obeying it? A video-based curriculum can breathe new life into a message destined for the archives. Not only will the congregation learn more, but the message will go farther through the group.
3. Elevates the Role of Groups.
For most churchgoers, the initial draw to a church is the pastor’s teaching and the music. As hard as the other church staff work in their roles, this is the simple truth. Other than Jesus Himself, the senior pastor plays a highly significant role in the spiritual lives of his congregation.
By connecting the small group study to the weekend message, you can leverage the influence of the senior pastor in leading his people to connect in small groups. Once the pastor has created a video curriculum, his next question will be “How do we use this? How do we recruit more leaders? How do we get people into groups?” Don’t you want your senior pastor asking those questions?
What’s important to the senior pastor will be what’s important to the congregation. Bulletins, video announcements, website – none of these come close to having the #1 influencer in the church direct the congregation. When the pastor asks for people to host groups, people will host groups. When the pastor invites members to join groups, members will join groups. When E.F. Hutton talks…
I learned this lesson about a decade ago. I had spent seven years recruiting and training leaders only to find 30 percent of our congregation in groups. But, the first time our senior pastor stood up and asked for host homes, we doubled our groups in one day. I never looked back. He did all of the recruiting and leading from that point forward.
4. Moves the Weekend Message Beyond the Church Walls.
When church members invite their friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives and others to join them for a church-produced Bible study, the senior pastor is introduced to many more people than actually attend the church on Sunday. In homes, workplaces, Starbucks and even commuter trains, the pastor’s teaching goes out to many new people.
Often new people will meet the pastor via video before they meet him in person. But, the transition from the living room to the church auditorium now is not quite as daunting. New folks feel they’ve already met the pastor through the weekly group studies. And, don’t tell the group hosts and leaders, but they’re actually doing evangelism. Shhh.
5. Puts Group Multiplication on Steroids.
A DVD curriculum is easy to use. In fact, someone who has never led before simply needs to follow the instructions. The teaching on the DVD provides the wisdom and expertise. The questions in the book provide the pathway for a great discussion. Pushing play and reading questions is not so hard.
Think about this: every person in your church has friends. The people who are less involved in the church will actually have far more friends outside of the church. What if your church members each gathered a group of 8-10 people for a video-based study featuring your senior pastor? Could a church of 100 members reach 1,000 people? What about a church of 1,000 going after 10,000? What about a church of 13,000 reaching over 100,000? Is it possible? The Bible says all things are possible with God.
I’ve created quite a few DVD-based studies in both churches I’ve served at over the last 10 years. If you’d like some help creating your own curriculum, shoot me an email: email@example.com
Pastor Wayne Cordeiro leads New Hope Oahu, which is certainly the largest church in Hawaii as well as one of the largest churches in America. Wayne came to us with two objectives in mind. He wanted to create a small group curriculum based on his recently released book, The Seven Rules of Success, and he wanted to connect his congregation into groups for the series and beyond.
New Hope Oahu already had a strong production crew, so they didn’t need the work done for them, but they knew that while the expertly produced weekend services, video-based group curriculum was a new genre for them. NHO partnered with us to coach their production team, to provide on-site direction for their video shoot, and to coach their small group team in launching new groups and sustaining those groups past the seven week series. Our team rolled up our sleeves to help them masterfully produce the curriculum for the book.
We provided guidance through the pre-production process from what equipment to have on hand to determining what elements to shoot and which on-camera personnel to use to help with turning a tradebook into a teaching script for the teleprompter. While this was new for the NHO team, this was not new to our team. Prior to this project, we worked with a variety of pastors to create small group curriculum based on a tradebook including Rick Warren’s The Daniel Plan, Chris Hodges’ Fresh Air, Wilfredo (Choco) de Jesus’ Amazing Faith and In the Gap titles, and Pastor Kerri Weems’ Rhythms of Grace. By repurposing great content, these pastors developed additional tools to help their congregations and many others to apply the principles to their lives in a group.
Before you get jealous, the video shoot took place in Oregon, not Hawaii. As you can see from this beautiful outdoor setting, Wayne and his team shot on a horse farm in both indoor and outdoor settings. The Lifetogether team provided on-site coaching to lead their team through every step of the process, every element on the DVD, and every promotional video to recruit leaders and launch their church-wide initiative.
The end result was both a beautiful small group tool and seeing 6,000 people connected into groups at New Hope Oahu in their first video teaching series. There is work ahead to continue support their small group team with the structures and training necessary to sustain groups for 6,000 people, but this isn’t new to us either. Best of all, New Hope Oahu now has the ability to continue producing curriculum for their groups with or better yet, without our help well into the future.
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!