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7 Reasons Your Fall Group Launch Could Fail

By Allen White empty room

I wrote this post one Fall as a postmortem of a church’s group launch after a colossal failure.  They ignored some fundamentals, allowed their communications department to take over the messaging, and the whole thing would have tanked except for an 11th hour appeal. Please take the following into consideration, so they next postmortem won’t be about your launch!

Fall is a prime season to launch groups in churches across the country. In my consulting work with hundreds of churches across North America, I am working with churches from Florida to Washington and Southern California to New Hampshire. Among churches of various sizes and denominations, we are seeing some tremendous results. But, not every church hits a home run with their group launch. Here are some reasons why.

  1. 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.

  1. 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If you choose to lower the bar next time, then lessen the risk by forming “unpublished” groups.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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 worshiped with a church who had never had small groups. Their senior pastor decided it was time. He cast vision for groups. He kept the response close to the invitation. He focused on recruiting leaders. He did it all right. Then, on Sunday afternoon, 360 new group leaders showed up for training (and they have two more weeks to recruit!)

Between January and May this year, we have helped 12 churches launch nearly 3,000 small groups. One church of 2,500 adults now has 500 small groups. Another church of 4,000 adults recruited 1,200 people to LEAD groups. A church in the Harrisburg, PA area has grown by 7.5 percent over last year, and giving has increased by 7 percent because of connecting people into groups. Big things are happening if you follow these principles.

Learn the lessons from your failed attempt. There is no shame in failure, but there is shame in not learning.

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Read how Dr. Tony Evans recruited 500 new group leaders in just 3 weeks.

The Case Against Sign Up Cards

Why Reconnect Members Who Are Already Connected?

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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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What is Leader Training?

By Allen White 

People hate meetings. Meetings are inconvenient. People are busy. So, we really need to ask the question: What is training?

Training can be a blog post. In fact, that’s how my blog at allenwhite.org got started. I would answer one of my leader’s questions each week and send it to all of the rest.

Training can also appear in your video-based curriculum, if you are developing your own. By adding weekly training to the video, leaders have what they need when they need it as they go through the materials.

Training can be sent by video through an email. Any small group pastor/director with a smartphone, a tablet, or a laptop can record a 2 minute video (not longer) and send it out to his/her small group leaders each week. This is even better than training delivered with video-based curriculum, because you can answer timely questions as they are asked rather than anticipating what questions they might ask.

Yes, we still need initial training to get a group started. This could happen between services or even during a service, but we need to rethink small group training. If leaders are learning through blogs, books, articles, or video emails, then that IS training.

One day I was talking to a pastor who came from a career in corporate training. As we talked about delivering training to group leaders when they needed it, he said, “You know, considering my background, this is going to sound funny, but the best training comes from the person who is proximate to the group leader when he or she is facing a problem.”

Rather than creating a seminar on common group issues and rounding everybody up at the church on Tuesday night, a conversation with an experienced leader or coach at the right time produced more meaningful training. Group leaders are best served when the training meets a current need as they are facing it. Leaders aren’t concerned with difficult group members until they have one. Leaders can be trained and prepared to a certain extent, but chances are they won’t remember what’s given to them if they are not currently facing the problem.

One Sunday morning a group leader who was a former member of my small group came up to me in the church lobby. She was concerned about an overly talkative member of her group and how to handle the situation. I had to laugh to myself because this former overly talkative member of my group was asking her former overly talkative group leader about a problem she was having with an overly talkative person in her current group. Ironic, huh?

In just a few minutes, I gave her a couple of tips on how to handle the situation. She thanked me. After the next meeting, the problem was solved. The over talkative group member felt insulted and never came back. Okay, that’s not true. The group member received the message loud and clear and cooperated from then on.

This group leader didn’t need to wait for the next training to come around, she came directly to me. She didn’t need to take copious notes from my training, it stuck in her head. Why? Because I gave her the training she needed when she needed it. Those are the lessons that stick.

While there is certainly a place for centralized Basic Training, the best training comes from the coach when group leaders need solutions to their problems. Rather than conducting meetings, develop relationships. Blogs and video training can certainly supplement what the coaches are doing, but the coach is the primary trainer. Small Group Pastors and Directors should invest their time in training coaches and developing their Small Group Team rather than overshadowing their coaches and micromanaging group leaders.

The world of training has changed. Online courses are replacing university campuses. Crash courses in some fields are all someone needs to build a successful career. If centuries-old educational institutions can innovate how they train and equip the future workforce, then it’s time for the church to innovate as well. Training tools should be developed for individual leaders through digitally, interactive technology. Groups of leaders can be trained online, but meet individually with their coach in person. Mobile devices, social media, and voice mail have made it possible to literally “encourage one another daily.”

Excerpt from Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential by Allen White. Published by Hendrickson Publishers. Copyright (c) 2017 by Allen White Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Fear Leads to Failure

By Allen White 

People typically don’t find a lot of success in promoting something they fear. They can actually be relieved when they have a poor result. There is less to be afraid of.

On pastor admitted to me, “What if I put myself out there and no one responds? I would be embarrassed.” That is definitely true. The answer is don’t invite people to something you don’t believe in. But, what do you and your church believe in?

First, if you’re a small group pastor or director, ask yourself where does your pastor want to start? If your pastor is more risk averse like I used to be, then ask for your pastor’s help to handpick solid citizens who could lead groups, then promote those groups. You won’t get as far as you would if you threw down the gauntlet to everyone. But, you will get much farther than if you went beyond where your pastor wants to go. Start where your pastor wants to start, then we will see where it goes from there. Once you have the first success under your belt, then your pastor will be open to try other things.

I’ve also seen the reverse. Sometimes the pastor wants to go full bore, but the small group pastor or director are more risk averse. While you definitely don’t want to squander the opportunity, you also have to reach a place where your fear doesn’t impede your success.

A few years ago, we were working with a very large church. This is a great church with a great history of biblical teaching and a solid group ministry, but their groups needed to catch up with their attendance.

In one teleconference, the small group team reported back that their existing group leaders were fearful of the Gather and Grow strategy. They perceived many problems from letting the uninitiated lead a group. Now, part of their concern related to the fact the experienced leaders had paid their dues in the leadership process, and now “You’re just going to let anybody in?”

I said a quick prayer during the teleconference, “God, what do I say to them? This could be dead in the water.”

After I finished listening to the concerns, these words came out of my mouth, “This isn’t a call to leadership. This is a call to obedience, because we are all called to go and make disciples.” The room was quiet. I wasn’t sure what would happen next. Maybe I killed it.

Then someone spoke up and said, “Could you repeat that?”

Suddenly, the light came on for them (and for me). The Gather and Grow strategy was the way to go. The Senior Pastor was already there, but it took his team a little more time. When it was all said and done, hundreds of people offered to gather their friends and grow together using video curriculum based on their senior pastor’s teaching.

I’ve had staff members freak out when their senior pastors have suddenly taken initiative in the staff member’s area of ministry. They’ve said things like, “Why couldn’t we plan ahead on this? We could be better prepared for the response. We could do this in a better way.” Some folks have become downright angry over their pastors meddling in their area of ministry.

If your senior pastor takes an interest in small groups out of the blue, first, thank God your pastor is interested in groups. Then, do whatever you have to do to make it work. After all, you don’t know when this opportunity may come again. Some pastors are strategic and lead with a road map. But, some pastors are more intuitive. Their leadership appears more like a lightning strike. Learn to organize yourself around those lightning strikes and make the most of it.

Excerpt from Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential by Allen White. Published by Hendrickson Publishers. Copyright (c) 2017 by Allen White Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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How Senior Pastors Elevate Groups

By Allen White

Pastor Matthew Hartsfield, Bay Hope Church, Lutz, FL

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. 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 over a decade ago. I had spent seven years recruiting and training leaders to find only 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. I have not recruited a group leader myself since 2004, even though I have served in another church since then.

The Pastor’s Teaching on Video Curriculum 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.

A Simple Teaching Tool Puts Group Multiplication on Steroids.

A video curriculum is easy to use. In fact, someone who has never led before simply needs to follow the instructions. The teaching on the video 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.

Excerpt from Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential by Allen White. Published by Hendrickson Publishers. Copyright (c) 2017 by Allen White Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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