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Why Small Group Coaching Matters

By Allen White 

In conversations with small group pastors from some of the largest small group ministries in the country, I’ve learned that many have completely given up on coaching group leaders. Others are on the other extreme and hire coaches. Whether your approach is the “phone-a-friend” method or the metachurch model, here are some reasons coaching is significant.

More Group Leaders Will Quit BEFORE a Study Begins that After.

From the moment someone offers to be a Leader/Host/Friend and start a group, they need a coach. I have seen more potential group leaders stall between the invitation to lead and the start of the study than at any point in the process. Most groups who actually do the first study or first semester will continue on, but groups that fail to start tend to not continue.

It is mission critical for a leader to have a coach from when they say “Yes,” until the end of the study. You may ask, “But, what about the rest of our group leaders?” Here’s the deal, if your other groups have survived without a coach, put that on the back burner and start coaching your new leaders now.

People Hate Meetings.

You’re probably frustrated that your group leaders don’t show up for your training. The short of it is people simply hate meetings, especially when the topics don’t affect them. How do you train your leaders if they won’t come to meetings? Coach them.

Rather than coaches being your spies or your report-takers, have the coaches train the group leaders on what the leaders actually need training on. It’s not cookie cutter. It’s customized to what the leader is currently facing. If you are answering the questions your leaders are asking, then they will become very interested in training. But, what is training?

What if training, especially on-going training, is not a note sheet and a PowerPoint presentation? Training could be a short video emailed out to your leaders. Training could be a short conversation. Training could be solving a current problem. Training should come from the coach.

But, if the coaches do the training, what do small group pastors/ directors do? Train the coaches and build a small group team. By working at a higher level in your small group structure, you can have a greater impact and get much further faster.

You Can’t Successfully Coach More than 8 Leaders Yourself.

Why eight? That’s my number. I tried to coach 30 leaders once. There’s wasn’t much coaching going on. What I discovered is eight is great. In a church under 1,000 adults, your eight might be your coaches or small group team. In a church over 1,000 adults, your eight is definitely a small group team. Just follow the pattern Jethro gave Moses in Exodus 18.

Let’s face it – most small group pastors/ directors wear more hats than just small group ministry. If that’s the case with you, then you certainly can’t coach all of your leaders by yourself. Consider your best and brightest leaders. Could they coach? Let them give it a try.

But, there’s a much bigger reason to invest in coaching – you won’t always have as many groups as you currently have. You’re going to have more! How are you going to serve your group leaders when you have twice as many as you have now? It happened to me in one day! Plan for where you want your groups to grow. Recruit coaches even before you recruit leaders!

Coaching will make all of the difference in both starting and supporting group leaders. No doubt building a coaching structure is the hardest work of small group ministry.

The only thing harder is not having one.

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Group Coaching

Small Group Ministry Coaching Groups
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Remember when you were a kid. You were full of excitement and chased a vivid imagination. Nothing seemed impossible. You could do anything — an astronaut, a fire fighter, a supervisor at Hallmark Cards. Okay, maybe not that last one. Are you living that dream? Or did reality come crashing in on you? Or did God call you into ministry?

What are you dreaming about now? Unless your careful even a dream of ministry can turn into a rut. Let’s not go there. Dream with me for a few minutes.

Imagine connecting the majority of your congregation into small groups this Fall. Everyone in your church is connected and growing spiritually. People you never imagined have stepped forward to lead. Your senior pastor is more excited about small groups than he has ever been. Your church is energized and ready to serve your community. You haven’t seen this many people going the same direction for a long time, if ever. It could happen. How would you feel?

Then, reality sinks in. How many leaders would you need? Where would they come from? How would you recruit these leaders? How would you form groups? Whose going to process all of those sign up cards? How would you get everyone on-board? How would you coaching and train all of these new leaders? Now, the feeling is not so great. But, what if you had help?

What if there was no guesswork in getting your small groups from where they are to getting everybody in a group? What if you could launch out into something new without falling on your face? What if you found a way to  success that minimized the risk? You could connect your people into small groups and live to tell about it.

What I am talking about is my next Small Group Ministry Coaching Group that starts on June 22, 2016. You will have my help in planning your group launch, starting or expanding your coaching team, connecting people into groups, then executing a proven timeline to successfully connect as many people as possible into groups this Fall. But, we won’t stop at the launch. You will be coached throughout your Fall group launch and have a plan in place for your new small groups to continue into 2017. Our coaching will take you all of the way through December 31, 2016.

Are you ready to get started? For the full details on the next Small Group Ministry Coaching Group, click here.

If you have any questions or need more information, please contact us: info@allenwhite.org or 949-235-7428.

7 Reasons to Join a Mastermind Group from Forbes Magazine.

Advanced Coaching Group (By Invitation Only)advanced mastermind group - future

If you’ve been launching groups with church-wide campaigns since the original 40 Days of Purpose, this group is for you. This group is limited to 5 thought-leading pastors who want to drill down into strategies you will never find in books or hear about at conferences. If you are ready to get down and dirty with what others will hear about 10 years from now, let’s put our heads together.

If you have the chops, you’re in. If not, then I’ll recommend the Small Group Mastermind (described above), then you can join the Advanced Mastermind at a later date. If you have any questions, please contact us: info@allenwhite.org or 949-235-7428.

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Individual Coaching

Strategic Personalized Small Group Coaching Social Media Pic - lower res

Small group strategies abound, but which one will help you recruit your entire congregation into community and help you recruit all of the leaders you will need. If you are suffering from information overload and would like a coach to walk you through the most effective and proven strategies, our Strategic Small Group Coaching is a great solution for you. Starting with an assessment and custom strategy for your church, you will be coached by expert, proven leaders to accomplish your goals. Take the guess-work out of small group ministry. Get a coach in your corner.

Interested in Strategic Personalized Small Group Coaching? We have programs for any size church and budget, please contact allen@allenwhite.org or call Allen at 949-235-7428.

“Allen White, and the team have come along side of us to produce better leaders, better polished curriculum, better groups, and maybe best of all, lots more groups.  We are grateful for their partnership.”  —Gene Appel, Senior Pastor, Eastside Christian Church, Anaheim, CA and former Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL and Central Christian Church, Las Vegas, NV

Virtual Small Group Pastor

Hiring the right small group pastor can be difficult, so don’t. Rather than hiring someone who may or may not work out or who you have to train yourself, the Virtual Small Group Pastor option provides all of the strategy, support and logistics to effectively recruit new leaders, connect your members into groups, train new leaders, and develop a coaching structure to support the groups ministry. The Virtual Small Group Pastor will function as a staff pastor at your church participating in staff meetings, planning sessions as well as oversight and responsibility of the entire small group ministry. Interested in a Virtual Small Group Pastor? Please contact allen@allenwhite.org or call Allen at 949-235-7428.

“Allen White is our small group superhero! Allen’s wisdom and insight helped us put all the pieces together for taking our small group ministry to a whole new level. Allen is able to see the big picture and was the key to helping us build healthy systems for a sustainable small group ministry.”                                                                                                                                                            Matthew Hartsfield, Senior Pastor, Van Dyke Church, Lutz, FL

 

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Coaching

Here are some ways I can help you and your church:

Over most of the last 12 years, I’ve done a lot of high end consulting with some of the largest churches in North America. What I realize is by focusing on churches who are 2,000 members or more, there are a good number of the 400,000 churches in North America who could not access the consulting I offered. My mission is to offer effective strategies and reliable service at affordable prices to every church. Whether you choose on online course, a coaching cohort, or affordable personal consulting, we offer a plan that will work for you and your church. Here are our options:

Group Coaching

We are offering two levels of Mastermind Groups for small group coaching. One for pastors and directors who want to learn and implement effective strategies for launching and retaining groups. The second for pastors and directors who either I’ve worked with previously or who have vast experience in small groups.

7 Reasons to Join a Mastermind Group from Forbes Magazine.

If you have any questions, please contact info@allenwhite.org or 949-235-7428.

Individual Church Coaching

Consulting is for pastors and churches who are looking for an individual, custom designed plan to connect your congregation into community. This option will lead you through producing your own curriculum, recruiting and training coaching, recruiting and training groups leaders, connecting members into groups, retaining groups for the long haul, plus all of the training aadvanced mastermind group - futurend coaching they need along the way. Designed to help a church start and sustain an exponential number of group, we will come alongside a church for 12 months and personally guide them through every step. For more information, Click Here.

If you have any questions, please contact info@allenwhite.org or 949-235-7428.

Free Webinars

Webinars are offered on various topics of interest for small group pastors and directors, Senior Pastors, and other key staff. For a current listening of webinar as well as archived webinars, please Click Here.

If you have any questions, please contact info@allenwhite.org or 949-235-7428.

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Why Small Group Coaching Fails

By Allen White Image

Almost every small group pastor or director will agree coaching small group leaders is important. Yet, many of those pastors would also admit they don’t know how to adequately coach their small group leaders. Having tried and failed at various coaching structures many times myself, I have found three key issues in unsuccessful (and eventually successful) coaching.

Unclear Expectations

Many coaching structures fail simply because no one knows what a coach is supposed to do. Is the coach an administrator or record keeper? Is the coach a trainer? Is the coach a figurehead so we can say we have a coaching structure? What do we expect our coaches to do?

If we need coaches to train leaders, then why are small group pastors still running centralized training meetings? Do we really need coaches to collect rosters and reports? Don’t we live in the 21st century? After all, churchteams.com will solve all of these administrative issues. (In an effort for full disclosure, I believe ChurchTeams is the best small groups’ database on the planet. Boyd Pelley did not pay me to say that. He did buy me an ice cream once.)

What do we need coaches to do? We need coaches to do the things we can’t do ourselves. If we had, say, five small groups, then what would we do with those leaders? We’d call them on a regular basis. We’d get together for a cup of coffee. We would personally encourage them, answer their questions, and pray for them. We would invest in the relationship. What if our coaches started there? Coaching is based on relationship. If there’s no relationship, not much coaching will take place.

Unreasonable Requirements

A friend of mind called me a while back. He was frustrated because many of his coaches were quitting. I asked him what he was asking them to do. He wanted his volunteer coaches to hold a monthly training meeting with their leaders on the church campus. Then, I asked him if he’d ever driven in his city?

This was a major metropolitan area. So, think of requiring volunteer small group coaches to hold monthly training meetings in the middle of one of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. It wasn’t working, and his coaches were quitting.

Face to face meetings are great. If you can pull them off with all of your leaders together, that’s really great. But, most people can’t. Fortunately, there are some alternatives.

Why not meet “together” with small group leaders on freeconference.com or Skype? Every day I coach small group pastors across the country over the phone or by teleconference. I’ve met few of them in person, but we connect on a weekly basis. We have a relationship, and they have seen success in growing their groups. This works with leaders locally too.

Facetime is necessary (the real, in-person version). Again, coaching is built on a relationship. But, maybe the face to face meetings are with one or two group leaders and not all of them. We can use other means to connect at other times. Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating a simple “Like” on Facebook or a bulk email to all of the leaders at once. The connection must be personal to grow the relationship.

Lack of Accountability

None of us likes to make people uncomfortable. Some of us avoid this discomfort to the point of not asking our coaches if they’re coaching. Then, we discover not much coaching is taking place. We shouldn’t be surprised.

Only what we supervise gets done. Now, we don’t have to come down on our coaches like a ton of bricks, but we do need to ask. Rather than asking, “Have you contacted your leaders?” we should assume the good, qualified people we recruited to coach are actually coaching. The question could go like this, “What are you learning from your leaders?” They won’t get defensive.

They might respond, “Well, I haven’t contacted any of them lately.” That’s okay. Give them a deadline, “I understand you’re busy, but connect with your leaders in the next two weeks, then I’ll check-in with you again.” Presuming the best about our coaches both honors and motivates them. Giving them accountability helps them keep their commitment to coaching and eliminates the guilt of not fulfilling their commitment.

Effective Coaching

Effective, motivated coaches need direction that is clear, reasonable, and accountable. How do I know? A good coach taught me that…as he was resigning. Do your coaches know your expectations? Do you know your expectations? Are your requirements reasonable? And, if it’s truly important, are you holding them accountable? These three simple words will transform your coaching structure.

Other Posts on Small Group Coaching:

Small Group Coaches Are Not Bureaucrats

Recruiting Small Group Coaches without Resumes

The Role of a Coach

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Beyond Pretty Boxes

By Allen White 

Pretty curriculum boxes appear to be the new hot thing in small group ministry. Don’t get me wrong. They are nice. It looks like Christmas! This tool is a great draw for potential group leaders.

Our church did something similar back in 2004. We had overbought curriculum for the Fall series. I bought gift bags and tissue paper at the dollar store and added the curriculum. No coffee. No bookmarks. No snacks. To be honest, the tissue paper was debatable. I think we made 31 bags. Why 31? Because that’s the number of flavors at Baskin Robbins. No, we had 31 sets of curriculum left after the HOST homes were recruited.

People were invited to grab a bag, gather their friends, and start a group. Those bags went fast. In fact, we had to stop offering them after our second service. They were gone.

The dynamic of group formation had changed in our church forever. No longer were people excited about joining groups. They wanted to start their own group. (You can read more of this story in Chapter 1 of Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential. Download the chapter here).

Launching dozens to hundreds to thousands of new groups is pretty easy in the first six weeks. But, once you have the low hanging fruit, things are a little more uphill from there. Now, you could continue to offer a new box or bag of curriculum every quarter. It can also seem like you’re making progress, since your numbers are up and to the right. In many cases, however, you aren’t adding groups. You’re churning them. (Read more about Disposable Groups). If only a colorful box could make a small group ministry strong.

1. Perpetual Newbie Syndrome

One of the great benefits to the group in a box is that anyone can do it. This method will create a ton of new groups in a very short period of time. I am a big fan of momentum. Get people out of their pews and into their neighborhoods. Launch an army of new small group leaders (or whatever you want to call them.) I am with you.

Groups, however, cannot live by pretty boxes alone. In a recent conversation with a pastor I first met six years ago, I was disheartened to learn that their group launches were keeping their leaders at the level of perpetual newbies. Many of the leaders had started six years ago and took a “box” every time it was offered. But, their leadership had never grown beyond the box. Now their group involvement was declining.

There is a time to delay leadership requirements and extensive training. This helps to get people who never imagined being a leader actually leading. But, there is also a time when leaders need to grow up. Requirements need to reappear. Extensive training should be offered.

If groups are only assimilating year after year after year, they become truly handicapped. What helped the groups to start will not help the groups to grow. Where are the disciples? Where are the leaders? Perpetual newbie syndrome doesn’t get the groups there.

Diapers are great when your kids are small. They’re not so great when they’re six years old.

2. Coach in a Box.

I’ve seen many small group ministries get into trouble because there is no structure to support their growth. If you launch groups well, you will very quickly overwhelm any kind of coaching structure you have (or don’t have). This was the case when we doubled our groups in one day. Our inadequate coaching structure couldn’t handle the new growth. Quite a few groups ended up unnecessarily as casualties. We simply weren’t ready for that kind of growth.

It’s easy to assume that one small group pastor or director or a small coaching team can accommodate the wave of growth that’s ahead. This does not work. If the new leaders are not supported from when first commit to leading, many of the groups will never start. The new leaders will become discouraged or overwhelmed. With no one to turn to or only a “phone a friend,” many groups will end before they’ve begun.

We all know that leading a group is as easy as inviting a few friends and providing some refreshment. We also know that it’s not that easy. Soon we discover that a few of our friends have problems. Some have needs beyond the ability of the leader. They could call the pastor, but if the leaders of your 300 new groups (or 30 or 3,000) all call the pastor, what’s your life going to be like?

Before you distribute a single box for a new group, have a coach in place for that group. It may be all hands on deck with your established leaders. A caring person who is available to coach a new leader will determine the group’s success or failure.

3. Where’s the Next Box?

If you don’t have a next step for the new groups, then don’t take a first step. When people are invited to gather their friends and do a six week study, guess what happens at the end of the six weeks? The groups end.

But, the groups don’t have to end. The key is a new pretty box that appears in the middle of the current study. If they’re new groups, don’t give them choices of what to study next. Just tell them what to study next. If they’re experienced groups, then let them go back to normal.

If you offer a next step as described above, then get the group to decide about going forward before the current study ends. Unless they decide before the end of the study, chances are the groups won’t continue.

Tying a Bow on It

I have no argument with innovative ways to get groups started. I think a group in a box is a great incentive and attraction for people starting new groups. The issue comes when there’s not a plan behind that initial start. Some churches have been perpetuating a low bar of leadership and a quick start to groups for so long that their ministries are actually dying out. What once made them great is now handicapping them. What comes after the pretty box?

 

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Stop Recruiting Group Leaders

By Allen White

Stop recruiting group leaders. Am I crazy?

If we stop recruiting group leaders, then where will they come from then? From within a group? Maybe. Will they just line up my door and demand to lead? Probably not. Will they just appear from outer space? Definitely not.

In our efforts to connect everyone into groups we forget one basic thing — everyone is already to group. (That’s the premise of my book, Exponential Groups). People are in groups called families or friends or neighbors or coworkers or some combination of those. If our church members would gather these groups for a Bible study, then they are group leaders. As Steve Gladen says, “Leaders have followers.”

Unfortunately these leaders don’t spontaneously appear. They need a little help. They need a little incentive. This is where our Senior Pastors comes in. If we would give the same words we might say to our Senior Pastors, we would have triple the result. How do I know that?

Well, after recruiting group leaders myself for seven years, we managed to connect 30 percent of our adults into groups. When my Senior Pastor recruited leaders, we doubled our groups, then we tripled them. I haven’t personally recruited a group leader since 2004! (And, I served a whole other church since then).

But, how do we get our Senior Pastors interested in recruiting groups? Read more here.

Often our focus in the Fall is to connect as many people in groups as possible. We do a big church wide campaign with the goal of getting a hundred percent or more connected into groups. In order to have groups we have to have leaders. In order to have groups we have to have members. So we focus all of our energy on recruiting leaders and connecting people into groups. Then after the six-week campaign is over we find that we have very little to show for it. We work so hard to connect all these people into group, only to see groups just as easily fall apart.

Stop recruiting group leaders. Spend your time and energy on something that will actually help your groups and leaders last. Namely coaches and training. If you put the same amount of effort into coaching and training as we used to put into recruiting leaders and forming groups, you will keep far more groups for the long term.

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Group Hosts versus Leaders

By Allen White 

Recently a small group pastor asked me, “Where do you stand on the Hosts versus Leaders Debate? People grow in groups, but you don’t have to know anything to be the leader??? I feel like I need to train more but no one wants to sit through training.” This are very important issues. Let me break down this question and offer a few thoughts.

The Hosts versus Leaders Debate

I don’t believe a Hosts versus Leaders Debate is necessary. It’s like a Children versus Adults Debate. At one point in our lives we are children, and then we become adults. Back in 2002 with the launch of 40 Days of Purpose, Rick Warren and the team at Saddleback Church introduced us to the term “Host.” The thought was that most people wouldn’t say they were “leaders,” so the invitation was changed to “host a group” by brewing a pot of coffee and being a “Star with your VCR.” What we discovered were a few problems, but a ton of new leaders who would have never called themselves leaders. “Host” was a great way for people to self-identify as a leader, even if they didn’t know that’s what they were doing.

A host, in turn, becomes a leader. Usually churches will “lower the bar” to allow anyone to host a group. I prefer to say “delay the requirements.” Every church must decide what the minimum requirements would be to allow someone to test drive a small group. If the hosts enjoy leading the group, then they are invited on a pathway to become official small group leaders. This is when the requirements come back into play. But, there is an important loop hole here.

Some people are content to be hosts. They don’t want to become official. Does the church require them to become official? The church could. But, the cat’s already out of the bag. The host doesn’t need the church in order to continue. They just need another video-based curriculum. At that point communication breaks down, and the hosts operate outside of the group system and coaching structure. This doesn’t need to happen, if the church is patient.

The hosts should be given a choice whether to become official or to wait for the next church-wide campaign to come around. It’s not perfect, but it may very well be more than what they were doing before.

Some leaders are children. Others are teenagers. Most become adults. But, all leaders follow that pattern.

“People grow in groups, but you don’t have to know anything to be the leader???”

Years ago I started teaching theology and practical ministry classes at a Bible institute. I was a little intimidated about teaching in my first semester. I felt I needed a better understanding of the subject. I didn’t want to appear foolish. And, I certainly didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of my class. A veteran teacher coached me, “You just have to be one week ahead of the students.”

Granted I had earned a B.A. and an M.Div. I knew the subjects. I just hadn’t taught the subjects. I held the veteran teacher’s secret dearly. I just needed to be one week ahead of my class. And, that’s exactly how I taught at the Bible institute for the next 10 years.

People grow in groups. I absolutely agree. New leaders also grow in groups. They don’t need to have a lot of training to get started. They just need to get started. As issues come up with the group, the new leader should have a coach to turn to. The new leader’s problems become teachable moments. Those lessons will stick with the leaders forever. Put an experienced leader in the life of the new leaders and most of the training will take place on-the-job.

“I feel like I need to train more but no one wants to sit through training.”

I used to feel the same way. Seminary prepared me to lead training meetings. Then, I discovered real ministry. I would carefully plan my training meetings and advertise them well in advance only to stand in an empty room questioning the call of God on my life.

Training with centralized meetings didn’t work for me. I had to stop and ask myself, “What is training?” What I discovered was that training could be a two minute conversation in the hallway or a two minute video sent out to all of the group leaders. (If you need topics and content for your training videos, check out the training section of my book, Exponential Groups, on pages 178-200). Training can be a text message or a voice mail. The best training comes in the relationships between leaders and their coaches.

There is a place for formalized training. A one-time basic training event could be held after each six week campaign to give the new leaders or hosts instruction on how to lead a group at your church. Beyond this, the leaders will gauge what training they need regardless of what small group pastors like me think they should have.

I finally reached a place where I only held two centralized training events per year. I gathered all of the group leaders each Fall to introduce them to the new curriculum and to recruit coaches from our established leaders. In the book, I refer to this as the “Sneak Peek.”

The second meeting was often a group leaders’ retreat early in the year. We would choose a place that was an hour and a half or so away. (In California, this retreat was in Monterey, so if you have that option, take it!) The leaders would pay for their lodging and some of their meals. I would budget for the speaker. This became a very popular event for our leaders. The best part was the leaders could articulate things they learned at the retreat six months after the retreat, because the training was set apart from the normal routine of life.

Closing Thoughts

I appreciate honest questions like this. I don’t believe the hosts versus leaders thing needs to be an either/or. I see it more like Stage 1 and Stage 2. If people don’t respond to an invitation to lead, then an invitation to “host” might do the trick. Personally, I think the term “host” is a bit dated at this point. There are other ways to invite people to lead without using the word “leader.”

Training is not a dinosaur, but the form of centralized training might be. Someone asked me once why I thought their leaders didn’t come to their training. Having no knowledge of this person’s training, I said, “Well, they don’t come because your training is boring and irrelevant.” He was taken aback. How could I make such an accusation about his training? I told him I knew it because that’s why people didn’t come to my training meetings. The good news is there are so many ways to communicate with people these days, there are many training opportunities, we just need to update our methods.

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My Interview with Life Letter Cafe

7 Questions Sunday

Photo by Luke Tevebaugh

LifeLetter Cafe: Where did the passion to author “Exponential Groups” came from?

Allen White: The passion really came from a lot of my own frustration in recruiting leaders, connecting people into groups, and getting groups to continue. I had also bought into the notion that one strategy would help our church connect everybody into a group. When that strategy failed to connect everyone, we would keep the best of what we learned, but then switch to another strategy. By continuing to change strategies we were all becoming frustrated — staff and group members. Then, it dawned on me, what if there wasn’t a way to connect everyone into groups and disciple them? There isn’t. But, whoever said you only had to use on strategy? We let one strategy connect 30% of our people into groups so they would grow spiritually. Then, we used another strategy to connect the next 30% into groups, then we used a couple more strategies to get our church to 125% of our average adult attendance in groups.

What if I could share my learnings from the school of hard knocks with other pastors and churches? What if they could help their people connect and grow without wrecking their church? What if they could form more groups than they ever dreamed of too?

A few weeks ago, a church with a weekly adult attendance of 600 people launched 147 groups. That’s why I wrote the book.

LifeLetter Cafe: Love the phrase “everyone is already in a group” – what are the upsides and downsides to this approach towards enlarging a local church’s groups ministry?

Allen White: The upside is the local church doesn’t need to work hard at launching any more groups. Everyone is already in a group. They have friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and others already in their lives. The pastor’s job now is to give these groups that people are already in an easy-to-use tool and a little training so they will do something intentional about their spiritual growth. Draw a circle around them, and boom – they are a recognized group! It’s not actually this simple, but this is the gist. Then, we focus on encouraging groups to gather, creating resources, establishing a coaching structure, and providing on-going training.

The downside is that some people are in the wrong group. Those closest to them may not be encouraging them in their relationship with Christ. They might be taking them in the opposite direction. If this is the case, then they may need to join another group, at least for a season, then when they are more established in their faith, return to the group and lead them to Christ.

LifeLetter Cafe: Can you unpack what healthy leadership development looks like in a church that chooses to move past group growth by addition or multiplication?

Allen White: Health has nothing to do with how groups are formed. Leaders can be just as unhealthy whether the church handpicks them, apprentices them, invites them to host a group, or throws caution to the wind.

Health must be monitored and nurtured. We could come up with a set of health indicators and poll our leaders annually, but we probably wouldn’t get to the root of their healthiness or unhealthiness. The only way to truly measure the health of leaders is in their relationships with coaches. While leadership development involves training, healthy and effective leadership development involves a mentor. They need someone who cares enough to encourage them at times and to exhort them at other times.

When we talk about leadership development, we usually think about training. We have this idea that the more we train, the better the leaders will be. This is not true. Training apart from serving is meaningless. Leaders don’t care about dealing with a difficult person in their group in a training meeting six months before their group starts. They care about dealing with a difficult person, when they have one in their group.

 

“The biggest change for me between coddling our people
and creating groups for them

versus commissioning our people and challenging them
to form their own groups
was in my own thinking.”
– Allen White –

 

LifeLetter Cafe: What are the typical barriers to getting past the idea of a church body is not so much “an audience to be served but an army to be empowered’?

Allen White: Who likes audiences? Speakers like audiences. Performers like audiences. After all, isn’t the audience proof of the speaker’s talent? I don’t want people to give up on worship services. But, what are we leading our people toward? Are bigger auditoriums and larger audiences transforming lives? Yes and no. Yes, the Gospel is being proclaimed and people are being encouraged. But, no, in that, once we leave the doors on the auditorium we’re on our own to work all of this out, or we just become more preoccupied with the worries of life.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, churches began to create worship environments to reach their communities. We call this theattractional model, and it worked for Baby Boomers. We invited them to come in, then sit back, relax, and enjoy the service. I’ve said those words. Then, we asked them to serve, they said, “No thanks.” We had invited them to come to church and be comfortable, and they took us up on it. Today, ministry to Baby Boomers is called “Senior Adult Ministry.” While we love our seniors, Senior Adult Ministry has never been the future of the church.

The church is not as “attractive” as it used to be. The direction has changed. Instead of bringing folks to church, we, as the church, go to them – not on contrived service days in matching t-shirts – we love our neighbors as ourselves. What neighbors? The ones in our neighborhoods. We can commission the entire church to love their neighbors. We can commission the whole church to go and make disciples by gathering a group of friends and doing a Bible study.

I’m going to try to be careful here, but I am a native Kansan, who tends to be very direct. Some pastors don’t want to empower their people because they need their people to be dependent on them. They like to be liked. So here’s the Kansan coming out — some pastors are co-dependent on their congregations. They need to be needed. The fear is if I release my congregation to do the work of the ministry: (1) They might do it wrong — they’re not trained, but also (2) they might not need their pastor as much anymore.

This answer has gone long, but the biggest change for me between coddling our people and creating groups for them versus commissioning our people and challenging them to form their own groups was in my own thinking. The only thing that kept our people dependent on me instead of giving them permission to start a group were my own fears and need for control. Once I let go of that, groups took off like a rocket.

LifeLetter Cafe: Share with us a personal favorite moment in the book?

Allen White: I tell a lot of stories in the book, so there are a lot of them. My favorite moment is actually reflected in the book’s dedication. One of my group leaders named Doug had an amazing ability to manage relationships. I saw this not just in his small group, but also in his part-time work in multilevel marketing (I know…danger! Danger!). I invited him to join our coaching team. He did an amazing job. At one point, Doug said to me, “Thank you, Pastor Allen, for showing me I was the leader I never knew that I was.” That was the best compliment anyone had ever paid me.

You see Doug always thought of himself as dumb. He dropped out of high school and never graduated. Doug worked in construction his entire adult like. He drove a construction crane through San Francisco Bay Area traffic every day, set it up, did the job, then drove it back. Now, that takes more smarts than I have. But, Doug always thought he was dumb, and certainly not a leader. To recognize Doug’s innate leadership gift, to call it out, and to encourage him to success is one of the most gratifying things in my ministry. Talk about expanding your influence. It’s exponential!

LifeLetter Cafe: How important is it for churches to have multiple “on-ramps” for group launches throughout the year? What are some of the most successful models currently?

Allen White: I don’t believe churches need to offer weekly opportunities to join groups. In fact, I think 3-6 on-ramps per year is sufficient. Most people are not looking for a group during the Christmas holidays or in the Summer. The best strategy is to leverage the three best times of the year: Fall, New Year, and Easter. You might offer a few other opportunities, but for many churches three times per year is sufficient. There is a lot more thought behind this answer than what I can include here. But, if people are truly interested in groups, waiting for a few weeks is not going to change that.

LifeLetter Cafe: How strategic and necessary is it for churches to have year-round video-based curriculum options for groups that wish to push past connect-level or affinity-based orientation?

 Allen White: My secret ambition is to train every believer to open up God’s Word and lead their group in a discussion which will cause them to obey all that Jesus’ commanded us (Matthew 28:20). That’s the heart of discipleship. If they need a video, then make a video. Most people don’t need a video because they are ignorant. Videos are helpful because people are busy (and pastors can keep control of what’s taught in groups — there’s my control freak coming out). I encourage churches to create a 52 week per year downloadable discussion guide that any member of the church can use to take their weekend into their week. If that comes with a short teaching video, then all the better. But, remember, some people will never lead a discussion without a video, and others will never lead a discussion with a video.

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Book

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Exponential Groups by Allen White, Foreword by Chip Ingram.

This book brims with effective strategies for recruiting leaders, connecting members into groups, coaching groups for success, and giving people something to say yes to, even when they have rejected church-wide campaigns previously offered by their churches. Keys to effective, ongoing groups include leadership training, ongoing coaching, appropriate record keeping, as well as a sequence of aligned series rather than just a single occasional campaign. This book provides fundamentals that will insure ongoing success with proven principles used effectively in hundreds of churches across North America.

Readers of Exponential Groups will learn how to connect their “unconnected” members into community, recruit the group leaders needed to connect and grow their congregation, coach group leaders for a sustainable group structure that will serve their church for years to come, understand how to maintain current discipleship strategies, and implement new strategies without alienating their members or derailing their current systems.

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