Case Study: Van Dyke Church 5 Years Later

By Allen White

Matthew Hartsfield

If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you are probably wondering:

Does this really work, or is this all talk?

Great question!

I’ve talked about the churches I’ve served and all of the churches I’ve coached. Today, I want to introduce you to one of those churches.

The Case Study

Back in 2011-2012, I had the privilege of coaching Van Dyke Church in Lutz, FL.

(If you want to read the original case study I wrote about them back in 2012, CLICK HERE).

Why am I using an example that’s five years old? Because I want you to see what happened then, and where things are five years later.

Believe me, it’s easy to create a lot of excitement for one six-week church-wide campaign or 40 Days series, but what happens after that series ends, the number of groups you retain, and the way you support them, is more important than starting dozens or hundreds of new groups for a campaign.

This is a marathon, not a sprint. We want to build things that will last.

Back to Van Dyke Church, in 2011, they had 1,800 adults in their weekend services and about 400 people in groups. After working with them for 9 months, Van Dyke grew to over 2,000 people in groups. That’s 110% of their adult attendance. This is what Pastor Matthew Hartsfield says about the experience.

“Like most churches, Van Dyke Church had a small group ministry for years. However, group ministry was not deeply imbedded in the culture of our church, and we never exceeded 22% of our adult weekend worship attendance in groups.

“That all changed when we started working with Allen White as a coach for our small group ministry. With his help, we created and launched our own sermon-based curriculum and developed a systematic approach to creating a small group culture of adult discipleship. Within one year, we saw dramatic impact:

• Our first launch we moved us from 22% to 56% in groups (1,000 adults)
• Our second launch took us from 56% to 89% in groups (1,600 adults)
• Our third launch went from 89% of adult weekend worship attendance to over 100% (over 2,000 adults).

“Today, four years later, we are still sustaining close to 90% of our adult weekend worship attendance in small groups!

“Allen’s coaching helped us create a small group ministry that generated results across the board:

• People get connected in community.
• People grow in their study of the Bible.
• People serve in mission together through their small group.
• People develop leadership skills as small group hosts.
• People become more evangelistically motivated to invite outsiders to small groups.

“Allen White was used by God in an essential way to help us move to an entirely new level of spiritual growth and impact as a church.”

While Pastor Matthew is very generous about his words regarding my coaching, I would say God had a much bigger role in this than I did. But, then again, the reason I was even coaching this church and so many others is because of what God taught me through the Exponential Group Launches in my own churches.

What made the difference from Van Dyke Church? They were committed to groups, but in 2011, they made some significant changes which produced exponential growth. Here’s what they did:

Tip #1: Focus on a Long Term Win.

Let’s be honest here. Launching one church-wide campaign or series for six weeks creates a lot of excitement, but often it doesn’t produce lasting results. For some strange reason, people get the idea that after the six weeks is over, they’re done. Where would they get an idea like that?

Notice how Van Dyke’s groups few. They went from 400 in groups to 1,000 the first time around. But, they didn’t wait a year to do it again. In fact, the Fall 2011 series ended before Thanksgiving, and the next series began in January. Not only did they add another 600 people in groups, they kept the 1,000 who were in the Fall groups.

Before the Fall series ended, they announced the Winter series. Before the Winter series ended, they announced the Spring series, and ended up with over 2,000 people in groups, which means they had more people in groups than in their worship services.

If you’ve launched one church-wide campaign, then you lost those groups, you would be led to believe that doesn’t work.

And, you are right! It doesn’t work.

But, if you put in the effort the first year, whether you launch in the Fall or in January, your groups will continue, and you will add more groups each time. If you’re only doing one campaign every Fall or every New Year, even though you are committed to groups and campaigns, you have placed your church in an endless cycle of Ground Hog Day.

You know the definition of insanity, right?

The key is a sequence, not just one series.

Tip #2: The Senior Pastor is the Groups Champion.

Pastor Matthew and Van Dyke Church actually created their own curriculum, which is possible for any church, even if you shoot it with an iPhone!

I remember the day after our team coached their first video shoot. Pastor Matthew called us into his office and asked, “Now that we’ve shot this video and are making curriculum, how do we recruit leaders? And, how do we get people connected into groups?”

His Discipleship Pastor had tried to generate this kind of interest in groups for two years. What did it? The senior pastor made the investments.

So, how do you recruit leaders and connect people into groups?

If you’re the small group pastor or director, you don’t recruit leaders. In fact, if you do recruit, you’ll get 30% of what your senior pastor will get.

Pastor Matthew stood up in his weekend series and invited people to open their homes and do a group. Think about this: at that time, he had been the pastor for 18 years. If someone wasn’t connected to other people in the church, why were they there (other than Jesus)? They were there because they connected to the senior pastor! They liked his personality and his teaching. They laughed at his jokes. The senior pastor is the reason they’re there. (Now, don’t tell this to your worship pastor. It will break his heart.)

When Van Dyke Church launched their first study, Pastor Matthew recruited 60 new leaders. When they launched the second time, he recruited 60 more. Then, on the third time around, he recruited over 40 leaders, which put them way over the top in the ratio of groups to service attendance.Their small group director trained and supported the leaders, but their senior pastor did all of the recruiting.

Tip #3: Groups have Remained on the Front Burner of Ministry.

After the first year, Van Dyke Church didn’t offer three self-produced curricula in a single year, but they still kept their energy focused on groups. They offered a weekly discussion guide. They produced one series a year. Their groups went up and down, like everybody’s, but after five years, they still retain a much higher number of on-going groups than where they started.

Pastor Matthew saw the benefit of groups for Van Dyke Church as he stated above: connection, growth, serving, leadership development, and evangelism. What other ministry in the church does all of that? There was no looking back for them.

So, what about you? How do you double, triple, or quadruple your groups? How do you get your senior pastor on-board?

This is why I created the Leading an Exponential Group Launch course. The principles and strategies that brought success to Van Dyke Church can also bring success to your church.

Before we started together, Pastor Matthew was friendly toward groups, but he wasn’t the champion. Let’s get your senior pastor to champion groups in your church.

What are your thoughts?

Download Chapter One of Exponential Groups

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Once you click the link in the Confirmation email, your ebook will download immediately.

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