Archive for category Small Group Skills

Bad Reasons for Taking Group Attendance

By Allen White 

Every once in a while in my life as a small group coach and trainer, I run into a senior pastor who insists on weekly attendance numbers from their groups. This is not so much for the purposes of discerning how the group is doing and isn’t even for the purpose of member care.

These pastors hearken back to the day of the old attendance board in the front of the auditorium. You remember those:

Last Sunday’s Attendance: 267

One Year Ago: 263

Sunday School Attendance: 56

Offering: $2,158.23

While megachurches are often accused of being “only about the numbers,” it seems like others have a little number-envy going on themselves.

Small group pastors ask me, “Is weekly attendance really important?” To which, I refer them to Good Reasons to Take Group Attendance [LINK]. While the small group pastor acknowledges those benefits, he or she soon confesses the pressure for attendance numbers is coming from outside – from a tote board -obsessed senior pastor. They don’t care who’s signed up for a group. They want to know on a weekly basis who’s actually attending the group. Here is why this recordkeeping might be a bad idea.

Small Groups Are More Like Families Than Classes

Let’s say you have a family of five. Your son has a late practice so he can’t make dinner tonight. Sitting around the dinner table, do you have a family of four or a family of five? Small groups are more like families than classes.

Groups are built on community around a Bible study. Classes are based on a course of study. If you skip too many classes, then you miss the content – the class is really of no benefit to you. But, a group is not a class.

Yes, there are group rosters. And, yes, attendance may vary. But, what happens not only during group meetings, but also in group life is what causes small groups to stand apart. Whether you attend the meeting or not, you’re a part of the group.

Years ago, we had a neighbor who attended our church and wanted to join our small group. She lived right around the corner, so our group was convenient for her. She also wanted her husband to attend  the group. He came once, but obviously didn’t want to be there.

They had busy lives, so rather than spending an evening apart with her at group and him at home, she opted to stay home as well, but we kept her on our roster. She never attended a meeting, but my wife would check in on her regularly, go for walks, and once in a while, she would show up for group.

She wasn’t a part of anybody else’s group. This was her group, whether she was there or not. Attendance records would report her as “inactive,” but we connected with her every week outside of the group meeting. See where record keeping can go a little haywire?

Small Group Attendance Alone Is a Poor Measure of Church Health

While it’s important to know over all how many people are connected to groups, ministries and classes, numbers should never be an end in themselves. What do those numbers mean? “Well, we have 80 percent in groups, so our small group pastor can keep his job.” “We’ve gone up and down with group attendance. Small groups aren’t working in our church.” That may be, but are you really getting the information you need?

Here are better metrics for group and congregational health:

How many leaders have you developed?

Every believer is called to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20). There are no exemptions from the Great Commission. How are you empowering and equipping your members to gather a circle and make disciples? For many churches, an easy-to-use DVD curriculum is the answer. The person doesn’t need to be a leader or a Bible scholar. They just need to invite some friends. What makes this even better is if you create the video teaching yourself.

How’s the load of pastoral care?

When numbers go up, care goes down. I believe Pastor Rick Warren said that. This is why even though Saddleback Church has well over 25,000 in attendance, they also have well over 4,700 small groups.

A church will never be able to hire all of the staff it needs – mini-church or megachurch – it’s the same case for everybody. But, there are gifted people sitting in our pews every Sunday. If we encouraged them, and they said, “God use me,” we shouldn’t be surprised, but God uses them.

As people care for each other in groups, the need for pastoral care goes down. The Body is encouraging and serving one another.

Now, every church culture is a little different. Some church members are well trained in calling the church office for every little thing they need. Others simply feel out rightly entitled. But, when care goes up in groups, phone calls to the church office will go down.

How has assimilation improved?

When people start attending your church, how easy is it for them to make friends? How are they connecting? Groups are a great place for people to start.

In most churches, everyone can’t know everybody. But, everybody needs to know somebody. Statistically, that number is around 6-7 people. That’s all it takes for a person to stick. And, that sounds like a small group to me!

People who feel the connection and care of the church body outside of the Sunday morning service are more likely to stick around. A few months ago, our family started attending the Greenville, SC campus of NewSpring Church. Our kids where actually invited first and loved it. My oldest son would like to go to church twice per week!

My wife and I joined a small group – not because we had to – but because we were invited. Here’s the interesting thing – even though over 3,000 people attend the Greenville campus, we run into members of our small group on a regular basis. We just pick each other out of the crowd. There’s just something really great about seeing a smiling, familiar face in a large crowd. [Begin Cheers theme song…]

Other than our small group and our children’s teachers, we don’t know anybody else at NewSpring. We’ve never met our pastor. We don’t know the staff. But, we do know our group, and that’s all we really need.

What’s more important: attendance or relationship?

If attendance supersedes relationship, then if you lose a member here or there, you just replace them to keep your numbers up. After all, if you’re posting numbers on a tote board, a decline is sending a bad message.

But, if relationship is valued over attendance, people will invest in each other and build into each others’ lives. Whether members are present at each meeting or not, they are loved, valued, encouraged and supported. These are harder things to measure, but are far more meaningful.

Related Articles:

Good Reasons for Taking Group Attendance

When Counting Doesn’t Add Up

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Review: Leading Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen

By Allen White

When you think about such a large scale small group ministry like the one at Saddleback Church, it’s a little hard to wrap your mind around. How could a church of 25,000 or so on the weekend have over 50,000 connected in small groups? A ministry of that size doesn’t sound like small groups. It sounds like a decent sized town.

Sure, any church can get a bunch of people into groups for a short-term church-wide campaign, but how does Saddleback keep the arrow moving up and to the right? If these were temporary, thrown together groups, then you would expect them to disband as quickly as they formed. What’s the secret?

What makes a good group system? Trained, motivated leaders. Visionary direction. Welcoming groups. Growing group members. Any or all of these descriptions would produce effective groups. But, there is one word that captures all of this and is the secret to Saddleback’s small group success: Health. Balancing the biblical purposes of fellowship, discipleship, ministry, worship and evangelism creates healthy groups, which in turn produce healthy group members.

Leading Small Groups with Purpose is a multifaceted resource. Steve Gladen not only gives the theory of small group ministry, he offers practical next steps to hit the group where the rubber meets the road. Whether a group has just started or has been together for a long time, each topic contains Crawl, Walk and Run steps to integrate the biblical purposes in the group, thus producing group health. This book is not over any leader’s head and is certainly not beneath any leader either.

Beyond the tools Steve offers in the book, he points the reader to many tools available on the web as well as quite a number of other resources. The book even comes with a small group assessment tool created by Dr. Les Parrott, which addresses group dynamics.

In practical, honest and humorous ways, Steve cleverly relates many stories from his own group experiences to convey his points. Having learned from the laboratory of over 5,000 groups at Saddleback Church, 30 years of ministry experience, and especially his own small group, this book speaks to the heart of small group leaders from a small group leader. While leading one of the largest small group ministries in the country, Steve is a small group leader through and through.

My only objection to this book is the author’s support of the Anaheim Angels in the World Series. Being a long time San Francisco Giants fan, I believe there never should have been a Game 7 in that Series. Other than this significant difference in core values, I’m a big fan of this book.

Every small group member, whether new or experienced, will benefit from this book. If you’re a group leader who feels a bit like you’re on your own, this book will serve as the small group pastor that you wish you had. If you are a small group pastor or director, do yourself a favor and buy a case of these books and hand them out to your leaders ASAP.

Related Books:

Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen

Connecting In Communities by Eddie Mosley

 

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The Role of a Coach

By Allen White

By now most small group pastors and directors understand coaches are essential to sustain and support small group leaders. While everyone will agree to the necessity of coaches, most don’t know what to do with coaches, and unfortunately, most coaches don’t know what to do period. Beautiful org charts in a lot of churches actually net zero results. Here are some tips to moving your coaches in the right direction:

1.       Coaches Aren’t Accountants.

The problem with most accountability in Christian circles is that it becomes too much like accounting. Unlike Santa Claus, coaches do not relish keeping a naughty or nice list. What’s more, group leaders don’t appreciate being supervised by a supervisor. This doesn’t mean we throw caution to the wind, but we also don’t put a cruel task master over small group leaders. After all, “love keeps no record of wrongs,” right? (1 Corinthians 13:5). Read more on accountability that works here.

2.       Coaches Aren’t Middle Managers, Bureaucrats or Spies.

Years ago, Carol, one of my coaches, complained to me, “I feel like I’m your spy.” At that point, I was still recruiting and training all of the group leaders myself. Carol and the other coaches were sent out to visit the groups and report back what they saw. No wonder she felt that way.

In recruiting coaches, we work hard to select mature, capable people to serve with us. Then, often because we don’t have the coaching role figured out ourselves, we tend to micromanage them as if they are neither mature nor capable. I didn’t keep many coaches that way.

The key is to elevate the role of coaching. When I chose coaches the next time around, I invited capable, mature people to join me in a journey. We met every week for dinner and to talk about the direction of our small groups. I committed to never make a decision about our small groups outside of that meeting. We led together.

These folks aren’t underachievers who need our constant motivation. These aren’t people who are prone to wander and need a steady reminder of direction. If they are, then they shouldn’t be coaching groups. If they’re not, then they deserve more respect than a place in our little bureaucracy.

3.       The Role of the Coach is to Refocus the Player.

My friend and mentor, Carl George has drilled this phrase into my psyche. When you think about a coach in sports, he stands at the sidelines and guides his players. If the last play went terribly wrong, his job is to refocus the players on the next play. They can’t replay the last play on the field. But, if a bad play keeps replaying in the players’ minds, then the next play will also suffer.

Small group leaders have busy lives and are pulled in many different directions. On a particularly hectic day or difficult season, it’s easy for leaders to become discouraged and wonder why they ever got into this business in the first place. The relationship with the coach is key to maintaining momentum in groups. The coach is not making sure the job gets done. The coach is making sure the player is okay.

4.       Give Your Leaders the Space to See What God is Doing

The most valuable function of a coach is giving a small group leader an opportunity  to reflect on what God is doing in his or her group. Most would admit to the difficulty of working “in” something and “on” something at the same time. It’s nearly impossible. Often group leaders are working so hard in the group, they don’t see the big picture of what God is doing.

By setting aside an hour or so once every quarter, a coach can give group leaders the space they need to see what God is doing and to identify what is next. This is as simple as the coach asking the leaders to list the names of their group members, then asking them to talk about what God is doing in each person’s life. As the leaders discuss their members, the logical next steps will begin to surface for the leader.

Bob – Hasn’t been around for a while. I need to give him a call.

Joe – Struggling at his job. I need to pray for him and give him some encouragement outside of the group.

Steve – Lost his job. I need to check-in with him and see if there’s any way the group can help.

Tony – Making poor choices. I need to pray for him and for the right timing to have a tough conversation.

Brett – Shows strong leadership potential. I need to give him more responsibilities in the group and eventually invite him to co-lead with me.

You get the idea. The coach must approach this conversation as a learner, not as an instructor. It would be easy to quickly diagnose each member and offer next steps, but the next steps determined by the group leader will be the next steps that are actually executed.

To make this work, start with a few assumptions. Assumption #1: Group leaders have made themselves available to God, and God is using them in their group. If a group leader is going through a hard time, he may be wondering if God is doing anything at all. He needs encouragement. But, some group leaders so naturally use their gifts, they might not even realize how gifted they are. They also need a coach’s insight.

Assumption #2: Who you are as a coach is more significant than what you could every say to a group leader. Your relationship with your group leaders is the greatest gift you can offer them. When relationship comes first, tasks get accomplished. Without relationship, leaders easily burn out.

5.       Small Group Pastors: Get Out of Your Coach’s Way

How many Team Owners or General Managers have made their coaches’ lives miserable? Small Group Pastors and Directors, like their coaches, should approach their roles as learners, not drill sergeants. God wants to use your coaches. Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle to effective coaching is often a well-meaning Small Groups Pastor.

While you cannot give away the responsibility for the ministry, empowered coaches are effective coaches. Disempowered coaches become burned out middle managers. Your expectation of your coaches should be clear, reasonable and accountable. But, again, don’t approach accountability as an accountant. Give your coaches the benefit of the doubt: “How are your groups doing?” not “Have you followed up on your groups lately?” If your coaching system is in disarray, then you’re probably in the way.

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Small Group One on One

By Allen White

What is a small group? In my group, the answer would be either “A group that is small” or “Jesus.” But, the group wouldn’t give those answers. The former answer would come from Jeff and the later from Jamie. (I use these names, because these are their names. We’ll talk about confidentiality another time.)

While anyone can join my group, my group is not just made up on anyone. My group is made up of eleven individuals. Eleven men, each with unique challenges and outstanding gifts. I know them, and they know me. We meet for lunch every Wednesday. We eat at deli’s and sushi bars and Southern barbecue joints. But, we’re also there for each other. The most significant conversations that take place aren’t necessarily around the table at lunch. While we have good Bible-based discussions, we share life in the parking lot afterward and throughout the week via email and cellphone, Facebook and Twitter.

If you treat your group like a class, then you become the teacher, and they receive a grade. Too many tardies or absences and soon they get an “Incomplete.” The difference between a group and a class lies in the center of it. A class is centered on a subject. That class will take place whether you’re there or not. A group is centered on the group members. The connection trumps the content.

Listen to actual group leaders talk about the importance of one on one ministry in groups:

Trouble viewing this clip? Go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fN4gdT-6NHs

The strength of a small group is built on the level of touch and interaction among the members. If your small group members don’t like each other or don’t know each other, then get ready to do something else in the near future. But, on the other hand, personal touch is more needed and more significant now than it’s ever been.

1. Encourage members who were absent.

Chuck Swindoll said years ago, “Every person you see is a person in need of encouragement.” In group life, our members need encouragement when we see them and when we don’t see them. But, following up after absent group members isn’t the easiest thing to do. I’m probably the only person that does this, but when someone misses the group, I think: “I must be a terrible leader. Our discussion wasn’t very insightful. As their group leader and their pastor, I let them down. Maybe I should just quit and let someone else take over the group. People are falling away because of my ineptitude.” Okay, I would never use “ineptitude” when I worry, but you can see where this is going.

A very popular book starts with this sentence: “It’s not about you.” What if they missed because someone was sick? What if there was something more interesting on TV? What if they’re not confident talking about their faith in public? What if they forgot? What if they had to work overtime? What if you as the leader don’t actually suck at all? Could it be true?!

Leaders are the people who do the things that other people refuse to do. Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is picking up the phone, but it’s an important touch. Even if you just leave a personal voice mail, “Hey, we missed you today. I hope everything is alright.” If your group has a Bible study, then the content is stellar, so it must be something else. Their absence could lead to a prayer request, which could lead to another touch.

2. Follow-up on comments and needs brought up in the meeting.

As leaders, we don’t always realize the impact of a statement in the meeting. As much as we put sharing in the group over the study guide, sometimes we’re thinking about the next question instead of the last comment. Then, it dawns on us later that the group member had just disclosed something significant, and we went on to the next question. That’s okay. Pick up the phone and ask the group member what’s going on. Say, “I was just thinking about something you said in the last meeting. I’m sorry I didn’t ask you about it right then, but I just wanted to see what was going on.” It might be nothing, or it might open the door to personal ministry.

If someone is sick or in the hospital, check in on them. Visit them in the hospital. Take a meal to their house. Call them and see how they’re doing and ask what they might need. If you’re not sure whether you should go or not, go! It’s better to show up where you’re not needed than to miss the opportunity to serve.

3. Be normal.

Unfortunately, some of us require a manual on being normal. The Bible tells us to “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15, NLT). Celebrate with your group members on their happy occasions: weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, baptisms, promotions, new houses, new babies – these things all need celebrating. Then, circle around them when they weep.

We all need our group when we experience significant losses in our lives – deaths and unemployment, struggles and setbacks – this is when we need community, not advice. This is when group members need each other – not to throw down advice or quote Romans 8:28 – but to be there. The more that we can make our group relationships, and discipleship for that matter, a normal part of our lives, the better off we’ll be.

4. What touches are significant to your group member?

Sure, it’s easy to send an email blast to the entire group and “Reply to All” with our responses, but is that actually a touch? One on one ministry isn’t built on convenience.

The Bible tells us to “encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13). How do you do that? If your group member loves to email, then email away. If they’d rather talk in person, then get together for a cup of coffee. If they’d rather text, then text. Offline relationships can be enhanced with online communication. It usually doesn’t work as well in the other direction. (Although I do have a good friend who I helped lead to Christ in an online small group back in 1994 on CompuServe.)

A wise person told me once, “People have more ways to communicate today than never before, yet they are more disconnected than they’ve ever been.” When email inboxes and twitter direct messages overflow with spam, even personal electronic communication can get lost in the mix. Maybe it’s time to go old school with a pen, a card and a stamp. Personal hand-written snail mail definitely stands out these days.

5. Don’t Lead Alone.

As a leader it’s easy to be overcome with a list like this. Most leaders have a job, a family, a life as well as a group. While the group is pretty high on the list, sometimes it’s all that a leader can do just to make the meeting happen each week. The tension is we all need more than discussions with members living disconnected lives. What’s the answer?

I’ve said this before, but while the leader is responsible for the group, the leader isn’t responsible to do everything. The leader’s job is to make sure everything is done, but not to do everything. Ask for a volunteer in the group to follow up on members who are absent, then follow up with the volunteer. If someone in the group says, “I wonder what happened to,” there’s probably a very good reason why they’re thinking about them. Don’t get in the way. Encourage the person who asked to follow up.

John Maxwell is often credited with saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Group life should engage both our heads and our hearts. Group is not something we do. It’s something we are. We can’t say to a group member, “I don’t need you” (1 Corinthians 12:21-25). “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:16, NIV).

Inevitably, we will have one of those days when we stop and think, “I didn’t sign up for this.” We thought we were getting together with other believers to do a nice, neat Bible study. Then, it got messy when people opened up. It got a little complicated when people took off their masks to reveal that they weren’t as together and freshly scrubbed as they usually appeared on Sunday morning. We certainly didn’t sign up for this, but God signed us up. Over the next 30 days, how can you show each of your group members how much you care about them?

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Inviting

By Allen White

A small group leader complained to small group expert, Carl George, a while back, “My group members won’t come to the group. They would rather go to the movies with their friends. What should I do?”

Carl’s sage advice, “Thank God that they have friends.” If group members are reaching out to people, then your group will continue to grow and share the love of God with others. No meeting is a chance occasion. There are no coincidences in a committed life. Meeting leads to inviting.

Listen to what Small Group Leader Shannon Perry learned at our recent retreat:

Trouble viewing the video? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51zEkl90xyA

Inviting new people to a group is more than just adding names to a role or increasing attendance in a Bible study. We’re inviting new people into our lives. Group members aren’t merely students in our class. They are companions in our journey. Since the stakes can be a little high on both sides, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Will this be the right fit?

Not every group is for everybody. As a pastor, people have a certain expectation of what a pastor’s small group will be like. Got that image in your head? Okay, that is not my small group. Last summer we did a study called “Jaded.” Get the picture. So, when I launched my small group, we packed out the big table at Panera Bread. The second week, we packed out half of the table.

My group is not “The Pastor’s Bible Study Group” where we can think deep and live shallow. We get real in my group. We avoid the softball questions like “If you were a tree what kind of tree would you be?” My group would simply answer, “Jesus.” If the questions start hitting where the rubber meets the air, then my group makes fun of the questions. It doesn’t matter that I wrote the questions or that I’m sitting right there. In this group, you’re going to get real or get lost. I tend to talk people out of coming to my group at times.

Not every group is for every person. Before you encourage someone to attend your group, find out what kind of group they’re looking for. Then, you might invite them to your group, or you might recommend another group.

2. Invite group prospects the right way.

Groups are not classes that go on regardless of who shows up. Groups are more like family. As Eddie Mosley shares in his book, Connecting in Communities,

“The family usually has an understanding about certain things…This is a courtesy that my mother-in-law taught me. Family members don’t bring someone to lunch without giving her warning first.”

We don’t just bring somebody along because they want to come to group. We ask the group how they feel about it. If they resist for the wrong reasons, then we must address their Bad Reasons to Close a Group . But, in doing the good thing of including others, we don’t want to commit the bad thing of disrespecting our group.

3. Who is God directing into your path?

As Steve Gladen says, “There are members you choose, members who choose you, and members God chooses.” God is at work around us. The question is whether we are aware of what God is doing. We don’t need to gear up for a big sales pitch about how awesome our group is. We just need to ask God who He wants to bring to our group, and then be willing to receive them.

4. Is your group prepared to receive new members?

Introducing new members into a group creates some awkwardness on both sides. It won’t always be awkward, but it might be a little awkward at first. The group must be prepared for a little discomfort. This is one reason why it’s good to warn the group in advance and not have visitors pop in at random every week. If the group is committed to including new members, then the new members may stick. If they don’t, then the group shouldn’t take it personally. Most of us didn’t marry our first blind date.

5. It’s not about you.

After that first meeting, it’s good to follow-up with the new member. At this point, a little fear of rejection will kick in. “Did they hate the group? Do they think I’m a terrible leader? Will they call me back?” Okay, now that that bit of neurosis is out of the way, have the person who brought them to the group follow-up with them. If they didn’t like the group, then help them find another group to try. If they liked it, then remind them of when and where the group meets next and of any preparation they need to make.

Groups are living things. Group members come and go. But, if group members only go without new members joining, then we all know where that group is headed. Inviting new members not only brings new life to the group, it just might bring eternal life to the new member. Pray about who to invite next, then pay attention to who crosses your path.

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How Do I Find a Co-Leader?

By Allen White

David had Jonathan. Moses had Aaron. Peter and Paul had Mary. John, Paul and George had Ringo (well, until Yoko Ono broke them up.) Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Who is your partner in ministry? Last week, we talked about the importance of a co-leader. But, how do you find one? Here are some qualities to look for:

Standout 
1. Are they breathing? A dead man will do no good.

2. Is this person a growing believer? It doesn’t really matter how long a person has been a Christian. The question is “are they growing?” Some people have repeated the same two years of their Christian experience ten times, so they’ve been a Christian for 20 years. But, are they growing? Are they actively seeking God? Do they pray and see their prayers answered? Are they allowing God to work in their lives to forsake sin and to see God’s Kingdom grow?

3. Is this person interested in the group? In selecting a co-leader, consider the folks who care the most about your group. Who is there more often than not? Who lets you know when they have to miss? These are good indicators of how important the group is to the person.

4. Who creates warmth? Are people drawn toward the person, or does he repel others? Now, that doesn’t mean that this has to be the biggest hugger in your group. That person could just be needy. You want the person who is open and accepting of others.

5. Who has shown some skills? As your group has passed around the leadership for the discussion, who has shown potential by leading the discussion well?  Were they sensitive to what was going on with the group members? Did the discussion get beyond the surface of the questions? While these skills can be taught, if a person shows a natural knack for leading, you might have a winner.

6. Who gives you the most trouble? Often the opinionated and the instigators in the group have leadership gifts. While your first inclination would be to run them off, the better thing would be to redirect them. To engage their leadership ability in a positive way will help the person and help the group.

These are just a few things to look for. In my time with Brett Eastman out at Saddleback Church and Lifetogether.com, I learned that rather than popping the question right away, it’s better to give a potential co-leader different responsibilities and see how they perform. Brett called this “Crawl, Walk, Run.” If they aren’t ready to lead a whole study, could they lead a section of the study? If they’re not ready to lead a section, have them lead the opening question.

Take your time in choosing a co-leader. Don’t just stop with question number one. Take your time, but don’t take forever. Your co-leader will be an awesome ally in your group ministry.

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Gathering New Group Members

by Allen White

Fall is a great time to start new groups and to add new members to existing groups. While occasionally a website contact or a random stranger will start attending and stick, but that’s rare. It’s just too much of a crap shoot, if you will.

So, where do you get new group members? How do you build a new group? Brett Eastman, the founder of Lifetogether.com came up with a great little tool that he calls “The Circles of Life.” (Cue, the Lion King song by Elton John). This exercise is simple, but brings significant results.

Think about who is already in your life that would enjoy or benefit from your group’s next study. Fill in the circles with the names of your family members, co-workers, neighbors, friends, acquaintances and others who would enjoy the topic. Think about the folks on your speed dial. Think about your Facebook friends and your Tweeps. Maybe there are people that you already get together with on a regular basis, why not add a study to your gathering? Just for five weeks. Not for the rest of your life.

If your group is already established, then invite the other group members to fill out the circles of life as well. If your group is new, then as you begin recruiting members, ask your new recruits to complete the circles as well. People are more likely to stay in a group with someone that they already know.

Now, pray over your list and the lists from your group members. Ask God to open up hearts and opportunities to include these folks in your group.

Then, you just need to invite them. Let them know that what you are inviting them to – a Bible study. No one wants to come over for dessert, only to be blindsided by a short presentation on multi-level marketing. (Nothing against small business, but I do have a beef with the blindsiding method). Statistically, at least one out of four people that you invite will check out your group.

Imagine the people on your list when they have a personal relationship with God. Imagine their outlook when they are encouraged by your group. Imagine the satisfaction you will feel when you see all of this coming together. Imagine how Heaven will rejoice.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Allen White.

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American Airlines Cares. Does my group care?

By Allen White

I received a call at home from American Airlines last night asking about my frequent flyer miles. I called right back today, because I was really hoping that they were giving me some more.

When I called, the agent answered and asked what my frequent flyer number was. I told him that I used to have it memorized, but I wasn’t using it as much, so I’d have to look it up. He said, “Well, that’s what we were calling you about. We noticed that you haven’t been traveling as much with us lately and wanted to make sure that everything was alright.”

I explained to him that I had changed jobs and didn’t need to travel as much. He congratulated me on my new job and said he was glad that I was doing well. That was it!

American Airlines cares about me. Now, the reality is that a report probably popped up on their screen to show that I hadn’t flown with them in a year and they’d better figure out why I was flying with a competitor. But, the call sure didn’t feel like that. It came across that they cared about me.

Think about your group. You don’t have to pull up a report to see who missed this last week. When I was a new leader, I was a little intimited to call. I thought, “Boy, they must not like my group or me as a leader.” The reality was that when I brought myself to pick up the phone or type the email, their absence actually didn’t have anything to do with me. They were busy or had a sick child or something else.

When folks are missing from your group, why not pick up the phone and say, “Hey, we missed you last week. Is everything okay?” We might be just as caring as American Airlines.

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How Important is a Co-Leader for My Group?

By Allen White

You became a small group leader because you are a capable leader. If you weren’t a capable leader, then you never would have been able to gather your group let alone keep them. As a capable leader, you can successfully deliver on all of the tasks associated with group life. You can lead the discussion. You can follow up on group members. You can host the meeting. You can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. But, just because you can do it, should you? Listen to what Jackie Jones, a small group leader, learned on our retreat about developing a co-leader.

You can also view the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLIe1w9U8HE

While I have sworn publicly that I will never ask a group to “split,” there are many good reasons to develop a co-leader for your group:

1. A co-leader provides built-in emergency backup. Everyone has one of those days when you have to work late or you have to beat a deadline or your kid gets sick. With a co-leader, you already have backup. While there may be a number of people in your group who could lead the discussion (and I advise that you let them), your co-leader is ready, willing and able to help at the last minute. It would be a good idea to let them lead once in a while even when it’s not an emergency.

2. A co-leader benefits from the lessons you’ve learned. As a group leader, like most of us, you’ve learned some lessons the hard way. Don’t let those lessons go to waste. As your co-leader is learning the ropes of ministry, share your experiences and include them in the learning. When they make a mistake, help them process what happened and what they should do next time. You’ve learned more than you probably give yourself credit for. Share your knowledge.

3. A co-leader shares the ministry. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul had many ministry partners over the years. Timothy, Titus, Barnabas and Silas among others were there to encourage and help Paul. You and I are no better than the Apostle Paul. We all need someone in our corner to share the ministry.

After a meeting, you and your co-leader can debrief the meeting. As you evaluate how the meeting went and how the members of the group are doing, your co-leader will give much needed insight and perspective on the group. It might not be as bad as you think it is sometimes. After all, two heads are better than one.

4. A co-leader prepares for a future group. Eventually, your co-leader will leave your group. It’s up to you to make sure that your co-leader leaves for the right reason. Leaders who are not tapped for leadership will ultimately find a place of leadership somewhere else.

One of three things will eventually happen to your group. (Well, there might be a fourth, but we don’t want to go there). Your group will grow to an unmanageable size, your church will grow and need new small groups, or you as the group leader will be unable to continue at some point.

If your group becomes too large, you will just turn the group over and over until someone gives them another option. Your new members will cycle in and out of a revolving door. This isn’t a good experience for anyone. As your group continues to grow, you must consider everyone’s ability to share in the group and everyone’s comfort in the meeting space. If your group feels crowded, they will stop inviting their friends. If your members can’t get a word in, they will feel unloved. When numbers go up, care goes down. It’s crucial at this point to address these problems with the group. While it may be uncomfortable, if the group is also feeling the pain, then they will be ready to consider some options. Your co-leader could take part of the group and start a new group. Then, both the existing group and the new group can feel the love and invite their friends again.

As your church continues to grow, more people will need a small group. Sure, new people can attend an existing group, but that creates a little weirdness for everybody. [REF] New people do better in new groups. Your investment in your co-leader can certainly pay off with them starting a new group. I’ve seen groups start new groups and in a period of just a few months see the whole ministry grow to 60 plus people. You could never accomplish that in just one group. And, by the way, the best coach for your co-leader is you.

Sooner or later, life can get in the way of group life. Whether the leader is facing a difficult circumstance, a relocation, or something else, if there is no one prepared to lead the group, the group will cease. Since you have developed a co-leader, the group can easily continue with your co-leader taking over the group. As John Maxwell says, “There is no success without a successor.”

The unthinkable fourth scenario: You have no co-leader. Your group stops growing. As the leader, you burn out. One by one your group members stop attending for various reasons. And, eventually, your group is no more. There are a lot of factors that play into this, but, hey, let’s not go there.

How do you find a co-leader? I’ll answer that next week.

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Preparing for Your Group

By Allen White

When it comes to our group meetings, we work hard to make sure all of the details are taken care of. The lesson is studied. The house is cleaned. The refreshments are made or bought. The chairs are arranged. There’s a lot of work that goes into a group meeting. But, even though we’ve worked hard to pull the details together, are we really prepared? Listen to Tim Jones, a small group leader, talk about what he learned at our recent retreat with Carl George.

You can also view the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inorAf5rMjM

None of us know what exactly will happen at our next group meeting. We don’t know who will show up. We don’t know what condition they will be in. We don’t know who will miss the meeting. But, God knows exactly what’s going to happen. Aligning our purposes to God’s purposes through prayer is the key to a successful group meeting.

1. We become more sensitive to God’s Spirit. As we pray about the meeting, we invite God’s presence into our group. The group meeting is for God to orchestrate rather than for the leader merely to follow an agenda. We become better attuned to the Spirit’s leading during the meeting. When should we linger on a point? When should we move on? God will guide us.

2. We become more sensitive to our group members. I have written other places about what to do with members who dominate and control the group, but there are times when a group member chooses to disclose something right then and there, even when it wasn’t asked for. What do we do? We start by whispering a quick prayer: “God, should I go with this or move on?” He will let us know.

Sometimes when our members need to share, it doesn’t matter what the question or the topic was. It’s our job to be there for them. If this turns into a weekly event, then that is another matter. But, an occasional deviation from the schedule never killed any group. As we give the group member freedom and permission, we give them a priceless gift. They don’t need have their problem solved. They don’t need advice. They just need to be heard. By preparing through prayer, our hearts are in the right place to give them this gift.

3. We become less disappointed with the result. If we’ve worked hard to prepare our house and our lesson for the group meeting, then sure we will be disappointed if just a few, or even nobody, shows up. Why would we continue to work this hard, if no one appreciates it? But, in group life as in the rest of life, the outcomes are up to God.

If only two people come to a group meeting, rather than being disappointed by poor attendance, see it as what God intended for this meeting. What does God want to do with just a few people that might not have happened with the whole group there?

As you prepare for your next group meeting pray for each group member individually. Pray for prospective members who have been invited. Pray for prospective members who haven’t been invited yet. Pray for God’s leading, and then let Him lead.

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