Archive for category Small Group Strategy

The Future is Simpler, but Not Simple Church

By Allen White

By Jozef Mičic. Used with permission.

Most churches are organized to preserve the institution. The institution may be the church as a whole, a paradigm embraced 25 years ago, or a worship style that fit a previous generation well. I’m not just speaking of traditional churches. This also applied to churches which are contemporary to 1995 or 2005. What worked for the last 25 years will not work for the next 25 years.

Ministry is Simpler

A stark difference lies between simpler and simplistic. Simplistic means offering just a few things to easily assimilate busy people into the life of the church. That’s not bad. But, perpetuating ministries based merely on the length of their existence or on its success in other churches are insufficient reasons to continue them in your church (or even to start them).

In most cases, the basis of this thinking is a system of staff-led ministries created to move people from the parking lot, through the front door, into a commitment to the church, and finally assigned to ministry. Henry Ford would be proud. But, the people who leave their cars in the parking lot to step into church for the first time are not raw materials or blank slates. They have different backgrounds, education, gifts, abilities, and spiritual experiences. If and when they complete the church’s process, they won’t be uniform products lined up neatly in rows. We aren’t manufacturing widgets.

Ministry is complex when those in authority decide what the church’s ministry should be, then attempt to recruit members into ministries which are not well suited for them. The purpose of many of these ministries is to serve the institution: park cars, shake hands, take up the offering, watch the children, and so forth. The focus of ministry is centered on the weekend experience, not the gifts and passions of the members. The end result is the constant need to feed the beast, that is, the weekend service.

As Rick Rusaw asks, “What if we gave as much attention to scattering as we give to gathering?” The seeker service is fading. The missional movement gets the church part way there, but lacks building relationships with those who are served. Incarnational is next. What is incarnational? Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:37-40 — “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Jesus gave his followers only two things to do: Love God and Love Neighbors. An M.Div. is not necessary for either of those. (I have an M.Div.)

There is merit to keeping what works and tossing what doesn’t. Every ministry has a time to thrive, and a time to die, especially when it’s not aligned to Jesus’ mission.

When we give people permission and opportunity, they become very creative. Ministry is simpler by starting only the things our people currently are gifted and called to do. When there is no longer a leader carrying that vision, then the ministry ends. Then, we get behind the next group of leaders with the gifts and passion for what is next. It’s simpler.

The System is Simpler

Most people don’t need an elaborate strategy to connect with a church. They only need someone who genuinely cares about them. They need a friend.

This is a function of multiplication, which I wrote about here. A simpler system is a system of multiplication. You must multiply yourself in order for your church to grow. We must realize that ministry is not something we do to people. The people are our ministry. Their development is both the future of our ministry and the future of the church.

But, when does a busy pastor have time for multiplying themselves when the tasks of ministry are overwhelming already? Give some of those tasks away. Develop people to fulfill those roles. Stop doing things which are not multiplication factors. Everyone has the same amount of time – whether they are multiplying or not.

Only 15 percent of Millennials and only 4 percent of GenZ are Christians. We have heard for years that the church is only one generation away from extinction. This could be the generation.

You don’t need to become an expert in Millennials or GenZ. You just need to engage them. Talk to them about what Jesus said and help them discover the application for their context. Instead of approaching them as their grandfather, engage them as a missionary. This is a cross cultural experience within our own culture.

I am 53 years old. I am not the future of the church. Neither are you. But, I’m not planning on quitting any time soon. I do plan to continue in relevant ways and to celebrate what the next generations come up with. What will it take to empower and encourage the next generations? How can we give them permission to serve in their cultural context?

Word of Caution

Before you go and wreck your church, remember you have a lot of people that it’s working for. You can’t afford to lose them. Love Millennials all day long, but remember, they’re broke, and you’re not ready to retire.

Am I speaking out of both sides of my mouth? Maybe. You can be the judge. Your current church members were brought into the current ministry of your church with a certain understanding of how things would be – a contract, if you will. If you attempt to change that contract in an autocratic, mandatory fashion, then you’re done. But, what if you could begin to make changes without threatening the base?

In a recent episode of Carey Nieuwhof’s Leadership Podcast, Todd Wilson from Exponential shared the idea of churches creating R&D labs and setting aside funds for it. This would allow for pilots and “skunk works” without upsetting the apple cart. I’m not talking about creating services like we did for GenX that ended up splitting our churches. R&D is a portion of funds, staffing, energy, and creativity applied to the future without radically disrupting the status quo until new concepts are proven out.

It will take a long time for our members to give up the worship style and ministry that they love for the sake of the next generation. Wasn’t this our argument to the traditional folks when we wanted to implement seeker services? But, time is short. A generation is at stake.

What is your church discovering?

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Multiply Small Groups, But Don’t Divide Them

By Allen White

Photo by 123rf.com. Used by permission.

Multiplying small groups is difficult. Multiplication involves developing leaders within a group in an effort to start new groups. Some methods of multiplication involve group members leaving the group to start new groups. “Multiplication” really becomes a euphemism for division. For many groups in North America, multiplication like this is unwelcome.

Many churches I’ve coached and the two churches I served on staff have experienced multiplication efforts as subtraction. We weren’t multiplying groups. We were losing groups because no one wanted to multiply. Or, more accurately, we were losing the opportunity to multiply.

In my days of handpicking group leaders, pushing an apprentice model, and encouraging group multiplication, I faced considerable pushback. Members didn’t want to leave groups. Group leaders couldn’t identify an apprentice. I ran out of people to handpick. Our groups were stuck with only 30 percent of our congregation connected into groups. Then, out of frustration, we discovered something that worked.

1. Stop Recruiting Leaders.

I have not personally recruited a small group leader since 2004 (and I served a whole other church since then). How do you multiply groups without recruiting leaders? You engage the senior pastor. Whether you hand a copy of Transformation Groups to your pastor to show him how groups can solve most of your church members’ needs or create video-based curriculum with your senior pastor’s teaching, there is no better spokesperson for groups than the senior pastor.

When we created a video-based curriculum that aligned with my pastor’s message series, we were giving our people more of what they already wanted – our pastor’s teaching. When he stood up on a Sunday morning and invited people to open their homes and host a group, we doubled our groups in one day. Semantics aside, we had never seen groups multiply so fast.

Small group pastors and directors at best will recruit only 30 percent of the leaders that the senior pastor is able to recruit. How do I know? After seven years of personally making the invitation to lead, our church had only 30 percent in groups. When my senior pastor made a similar invitation, our groups jumped from 30 percent to 60 percent the first time around. Within six month, we had 125 percent of our average adult attendance in groups. My pastor recruited every leader from 31-125 percent.

2. Stop Coaching Leaders.

Up until the day our groups doubled, I coached all of the leaders myself. In many ways, I had become the “lid” on our small group ministry. The limited number of groups we had at that point was a true reflection of my leadership. As Andy Stanley says our system was perfectly designed to achieve the results we were getting. We were stuck because I was the bottleneck, so I stopped coaching the leaders.

Instead, I handpicked a leadership team of six coaches to help me lead the small group ministry. This felt like a risky move because things were moving so fast that I couldn’t keep up. As their pastor, I had to admit that I didn’t have it all figured out and that I needed them to figure this out with me. They were up for the challenge. We led together, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. They coached the leaders. I led the leadership team. Our groups multiplied.

3. Stop Assigning People to Groups.

There are a lot of reasons to assign people to groups. It’s efficient. It’s easy. It helps to prevent combinations of troublemakers from meeting together. It’s a pure expression of control. Yikes!

Assigning people to groups, sign up cards, websites, and group directories are all efficient ways to place people in groups, but they aren’t effective. The wheels fall off these efforts simply because these are task-oriented approaches in forming relationally-based groups. Do you see the problem?

By placing people into groups, we are setting them up on a blind date, if you will. Most people don’t enjoy blind dates. It’s awkward. It’s stressful. It rarely works out. The same is true of small group “blind dates.”

Instead, when people offer to host a new group, their first job is to recruit people to join their group. By making a list of people they know, praying over the list, and personally inviting these folks, groups filled up quickly and stayed together for a second study. Make opportunity for those who aren’t invited to a group to meet the group leaders and join a group. In a church of 800 adults, we connected 1,000 into groups without sign up cards, websites, or directories. In the churches I coach (both larger and smaller) this has proved effective in forming lasting groups.

4. Stop Training Apprentices.

We broke the rule of attempting to recruit and train one apprentice. I learned from Brett Eastman and Lifetogether to “apprentice” the entire group. Everyone chose a responsibility to host the group in their home, lead all or a portion of the study, bring refreshments, plan outreach events and parties. Potential leaders were much easier to identify when they were put into action rather than picked out of a lineup.

As groups grew, some left to start a new group. There was no mandatory splitting of groups. They just got too big for the houses they were meeting in.

Concluding Thoughts

Honestly, 14 years ago, I didn’t believe this would be my story. Once we implemented the principles I shared here, I couldn’t believe how easy it was to multiply groups. Now, I’ve seen this story multiplied across over 1,500 churches that I’ve had the privilege of coaching.

This could be your story.

Schedule an assessment to get insights into how to accomplish this in your church.

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Where Will You be a Year from Now?

By Allen White

How will your small group ministry look different a year from now than it does today? Where will the new leaders come from? How will you fill the groups? How are you preparing to coach and train your new leaders? How will next year be any different?

I was talking to a small group pastor the other day. The conversation seemed eerily familiar. As the pastor explained the current status of their groups and the church’s goal for new groups, I pulled up the notes from a conversation we had two years ago. It was the same conversation – same number of current groups, same goal, same plan, but no progress. This was not the first time. I hear pastors from around the country with hopes and dreams of a stellar group year only to discover these were the unfulfilled hopes and dreams from previous years.

This would lead me to believe one of two things. Either pastors should stop talking to me (I hope not), or there are many more churches who are stuck than I had imagined. Are you stuck? My groups were stuck for seven years before I figured out how to grow the groups beyond 30% of our adults.

Recently, I had a conversation with a senior pastor who was informed by his small group pastor that there would be no new groups for the Winter semester. Obviously, this was quite a blow. How could he have a full time staff member who wasn’t producing any new leaders? The net of the conversation was that something or someone needed to change. Yikes!

Join My 12 Months to Small Group Success Webinar (or read on).

Set a Goal

But, let’s not get stuck on being stuck. How many new groups are you trusting God for in the coming year? Here’s a simple formula:

Start with your Average Adult Weekend Attendance
Subtract your Current Group Members (everything you call a group at your church)
Subtract Members of Other Studies or Groups (other classes, Bible studies, Sunday School, Midweek study, or similar)
Net Potential Group Members

More than likely your potential group members are attending the weekend services, but are not involved in anything else. Notice that I exclude people committed to other types of Bible studies, because what they are doing is working for them, and most likely they won’t add another group.

Now, out of your potential members, how many new groups will you trust God for in the next 12 months? You can simply divide the Potential Group Member number by 8 to get your number. You might increase or decrease that number if you choose. Bottom line: Set a number. Now, let’s make a plan.

Prepare to Meet Your Goal

Take your new group goal, how many group leaders do you need?

Who will they be? Church members? People you know? Anyone who is breathing and willing?

Where will they come from: existing groups, personal invitations, your pastor’s invitation in a service, where?

When you get them, how will you help them get started?

If your groups grow by 20%, 50%, or more between now and next year, how will you prepare for that? How many new leaders do you need? How many coaches do you need to recruit and train between now and then? How will you connect more people into groups? What happens if you church doubles in the next three years? How will you manage that?

While you can never predict the exact number of groups and leaders you’ll have in the next year, you can prepare. What and who will you need to meet your God-sized goal in the next 12 months? How about your senior pastor? Senior pastors promoting groups and participating in a group is a huge factor in gaining new groups. How can you get your pastor more interested in groups?

Join My 12 Months to Small Group Success Webinar (or read on).

By now most churches have launched their small group semesters, series, or church wide campaigns. Some churches have seen dramatic growth in their groups. For others, their numbers are about the same. And, for a few, their overall group numbers are down.

Regardless of where you are, I can help you take the guesswork out of groups by guiding you in how to recruit new leaders, engage your senior pastor, form longer lasting groups, and develop your coaching and training structure. The strategies have been proven by over 1,500 churches in North America. In just the last 7 years, churches who received this coaching have connected over 125,000 people into groups. God has done some pretty amazing things in these churches. Is your church ready for something like this?

Join me for the 12 Months to Small Group Success Webinar on Thursday, March 1 at 1pm Eastern or Tuesday, March 6 at 2pm Eastern. Click here to register.

I hope to see you at the webinar this week!

God bless,

Allen White
Taking the Guesswork Out of Groups
AllenWhite.org

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The Best Timing for Your Easter Group Launch: Before, During, or After?

By Allen White

An Easter launch has some definite advantages. While I’ve written in the past about the reasons why Easter may be not an optimal time to launch groups, Easter is the biggest Sunday of the year. There are new visitors. Everyone who calls your church home is there. Talk about a captive audience! But, what’s the best way to go about launching at Easter?

1. Start the Series BEFORE Easter.

Starting before Easter has a couple of key advantages. First, you can get more people to your Easter services. As your church members (and attenders) invite their friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and others to do a study with them, it’s very natural for your members to invite their group to an Easter service. (Notice the invitation is for new leaders to start new groups without using the word “leader” or “group.”) They’ve already committed to a study that involves Easter, so Easter services are a natural part of it. Studies like 30 Days to Easter by Brett Eastman and Lifetogether fit the bill.

The second advantage to starting the series before Easter is to keep people engaged in the weeks following Easter Sunday. The biggest Sunday of the year is often followed by one of the weakest Sundays of the year. The average person in the U.S. attends church 1.6 times per month. If they were there at Easter, you probably won’t see them for a week or two after.

By starting a series before Easter that continues after Easter, you not only get them to Easter services, but you keep them coming back the weekend after Easter. It’s part of the group study. They can’t miss. A study like All In: a small group experience based on the King’s Witness symbols covers five key events in the life of Jesus: He Came. He Died. He Arose. He Ascended He’s Coming Back.

The series starts two weeks prior to Easter, then ends two weeks after Easter. People will follow along with the series regardless of their normal pattern of skipping the Sunday after Easter because the series creates an open loop. Most people feel the need to complete what they’ve started. The pull through will benefit them as they study “He Ascended” about the coming of the Holy Spirit and the start of the Church and will get them to come back the Sunday after Easter to continue the series. For more information: allinsmallgroups.com. To preview and purchase the study guide, click here. (For full disclosure, I had something to do with this one.)

2. Start the Series ON Easter.

As stated earlier, everyone who calls your church their home church attends Easter services. A few years ago we created a study with Gene Appel, Senior Pastor of Eastside Christian Church, Anaheim, CA. Gene’s message on Easter was Hope Rising. We created a full video-based curriculum for Eastside in just 14 days (never again!).

Gene preached the Hope Rising message in their Easter services. On the way out the door, every person who attended Easter services received a copy of the study guide for the series. After distributing some 7,000 books that Easter, Eastside managed to launch 460 groups.

By capitalizing on the Easter attendance, the church formed more groups than they ever had. Attendance held for the weeks to come. After the Easter baskets and bunnies were stored away, the message of Hope Rising continued.

3. Start the Series AFTER Easter.

Now, you’ll notice a theme here…since Easter is the biggest attendance of the year…it’s a great time to advertise groups to your entire congregation in person on the one Sunday, weekend, or week when your Easter services happen. You really only have this one shot in the entire calendar year when everyone is there.

By promoting groups on Easter (and the Sundays leading up to Easter), you can give your people something to come back to the next week. While this does not have the same pull through of the other two strategies, it is an opportunity that is too good to pass up.

Consider a series that will appeal to your infrequent attendars and their unchurched friends. The great thing about CEOs (Christmas and Easter Only) is they have more relationships outside of the church than inside the church. While they could have invited their friends to Easter, for some that may have been too big of a step. But, inviting their friends into their home for a Bible study that meets a felt need is not only a much easier ask, but it’s also a much bigger impact on people seeking spiritual answers.

Don’t Waste the Easter Opportunity

Whether you decide to launch groups before, during, or after Easter, LAUNCH THEM! Some pastors would rather invest in a Fall or New Year launch, but Easter is unique. Everybody is there! You can’t pass that up.

How are you going to assimilate your Easter crowd this year? If you have other ideas to share, please leave your comments below.

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Launch Groups on the Biggest Day of the Year

By Allen White 

Easter is only 12 weeks away. Did I scare you?

Now, you may be one of those pastors who plans everything in advance. Good for you. But, you might be like the pastors at one church I served where Easter always seemed to take us by surprise. How many services? How do we promote? What is our theme? Who is leading worship? How can we get them back after Easter? If those are your questions, you are in good company.

Every pastor wants to see new faces on Easter Sunday, and maybe even a few faces that haven’t been seen for a while. But, once you get them to the service, how do you keep them? How can they be connected? How can new believers be effectively discipled? These are important questions. Let me offer three tips to connecting your Easter crowd.

1. Everyone attends Easter Services.

Easter is the day when everyone who calls your church their home church shows up. Whether they are members, regular attenders or CEOs (Christmas and Easter only), Easter is the day they all come. This presents a unique opportunity for launching groups.

More than any other season, Easter is the time when everyone can hear the invitation for groups at the same time. While Christmas offers a similar opportunity, the end of December is not a great time to talk about the New Year. Your people just aren’t there yet. But, Easter gets everybody in the room and offers a window to start groups and get people to come back on the Sunday after Easter.

A few years ago, we created a video-based curriculum called Hope Rising for Eastside Christian Church, Anaheim, CA with Pastor Gene Appel. They handed out a copy of the study guide to everyone of the 7,000 people who attended Easter series. When it was all said and done, Eastside launched 460 groups for that series. Now you may not have 7,000 people, but you could have 65 percent of your people in groups like Gene did.

While some may have some misgivings about launching groups toward the end of the school year, the reality is when you have everybody present for Easter, you really can’t pass up that opportunity. If you offer these groups a next step, even if it’s in the Fall, as many as 80 percent will take you up on the offer.

2. Bless your CEO’s.

I served one pastor who used to end the Easter services by saying, “And, if I don’t see you in the near future, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas.” We can have a bad attitude toward our “Christmas and Easter Only” crowd, but let’s not rule them out just yet.

When you think about the people who occasionally or rarely attend your services, wouldn’t you like to get them more engaged? Now think about this, who are their friends? Most likely they have far more friends outside of the church than inside the church. That’s great news for starting small groups. If you invite them to do a study with their friends, you can begin reaching people who’ve barely darkened the door of your church. Rather than inviting your CEO’s to join groups with church people, offer them a way to connect with their unchurched friends and do something intentionally to grow spiritually. The group experience will lead them to the worship experience.

At Harvest Church in Byron, GA, Pastors Jim and Jennifer Cowart used a strategy they called “Grab, Gather, and Grow.” The idea was to grab an easy-to-use curriculum, gather with a group of friends, and grow spiritually. Their congregation of 2,500 took them up on it. Some 5,000 or so friends were gathered for these groups. Many of those friends started attending the weekend services as well.

So often we think of groups as an assimilation strategy or discipleship training, but groups are very effective in reaching out to others in the community who may not have a connection to the church, but do have a connection to someone in your church.

By giving your members, and even your CEO’s, permission and opportunity to form a group with their friends, more people could end up in groups than in your services. Groups can become an entry point to your church.

3. Your Senior Pastor is the Key.

The key to launching groups at both Eastside and Harvest was the senior pastors. At both churches, the senior pastor was the spokesperson for groups. Not only that, the senior pastor was the teacher on the curriculum. While there is a lot to unpack in those two concepts think about this: if your people aren’t connected to each other, the reason they attend your church is because of your senior pastor. They enjoy the pastor’s style, teaching, and even the jokes. (One word of caution: don’t mention this to your worship pastor, it will break his heart.)

If your church creates curriculum based on your pastor’s teaching, you’re just giving your people more of what they already want. There are a variety of ways to do this. You could pay someone tens of thousands of dollars to do this for you. If you’re interested in that, I could recommend someone. But, you could also map out your own series, shoot the video, edit the video, write the study guide, design the study guide, and then duplicate everything yourself. That may sound daunting, but some churches are producing curriculum with an iPhone. A third way is to add your pastors teaching to a series that has already been created like All In.

However, you create your video-based curriculum, that teaching along with your pastors invitation on Easter Sunday will create more groups than you can imagine. While you’re in the process of calculating how many lilies and eggs your church will need, don’t miss out on the opportunity to launch groups off of Easter. Not only will unchurched people participate, but the Sunday after Easter won’t see the dip in attendance it usually does.

 

Join Allen White and Jeremy Gant from One Ten Pictures for a FREE On Demand Webinar on Effective Easter Launch Strategies: allinsmallgroups.com

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Something’s Missing

By Allen White

What do you do with the dozens or hundreds of leaders you’ve recruited and the groups they started? Why are your groups declining after so much success? You’re not alone.

What worked yesterday is failing you today.

After living for years with the frustration of mature people who were well qualified to lead feeling rather unqualified, we made some radical changes. An invitation to leader training is not appealing to those who don’t consider themselves to be leaders. How do you get them to see they really can lead well, if they won’t even give it a try?

We had to change the entry point. We reversed the order. Training became second. Leading was first, but we didn’t call it that. At first, we asked people to HOST a group: Heart open to God, Open your home, Serve some snacks, and Turn on the VCR…you could be a star! Then, our people discovered that “HOST” just meant “leader.” Now what?

We went undercover. As our people were given permission and opportunity, we invited them to “get together with their friends and do a study.” We were asking them to LEAD a GROUP without using those words. After all, if they could gather their friends for a short-term study, they had the stuff to lead a group. We just didn’t call it that. If the HOST model brought us dozens of new groups, then this new way brought us hundreds of new groups. But, an unintended consequence rose up.

People were condition to both a low level of commitment and a short-term experience. One church I’m working with called their groups “burst groups.” These intentionally met for six weeks, then disappeared as quickly as they started. On-going groups weren’t even a consideration. Yes, people would join groups when a campaign was offered, but the reality was this church was only discipling their people in groups about 12 weeks per year. Sure, it was better than nothing, but it was also practically nothing.

Another church recently contacted me. They’ve faithfully launched short-term campaigns for six years now, but each campaign sees a smaller return. Their groups were in disarray. Coaching was non-existent. The thought of an on-going discipleship strategy seemed like wishful thinking.

A good idea had definitely gone bad.

How did we get here? The alignment series and campaign that helped us rapidly recruit leaders and connect people into groups outlived it’s lifespan. The HOST strategy wasn’t supposed to be the answer to starting groups 15 years after 40 Days of Purpose. They never grew up. They didn’t mature. These groups didn’t produce what they were supposed to.

The strategies weren’t wrong. They did exactly what they were supposed to do for a couple of years. They were never met to go on for a decade. What’s the fix?

We have to go back to all of those things we delayed for the six week campaign: requirements, training, coaching, leadership development, and discipleship training while maintaining momentum. You can’t lower the bar and leave it low. What was delayed initially must be reintroduced in the group leader’s first year! How did we miss that?

I want to help you. I am starting a completely different type of coaching group for 2018. We will explore how to turn our short-term groups into long-term groups and how to put our leaders and groups on a pathway toward growth and maturity. Your people are ready for a challenge. We made it easy to start, but now we must lead them into something more. We can no longer treat all of groups the same. While we will always start new groups with campaigns and short-term experiences, we won’t leave them there.

In this new coaching group, we will go deep on:

  • “Converting” short-term groups to long-term groups.
  • Challenging group leaders toward deeper commitment.
  • Coaching.
  • Leadership Development.
  • Well-rounded Discipleship.
  • A Curriculum Pathway.
  • Small Group Life Cycles.
  • Mission, Outreach, Evangelism.
  • Maintaining Momentum.
  • And wherever else we need to go.

The bottom line is that it’s time to grow up your groups and leaders. What has gotten you this far will not serve you and your church well in the years ahead. Always start new groups. But, what are you leading them toward?

I’m calling this new group: Exponential Growth Coaching. This coaching group will run January – December 2018. The group of 5 churches will meet twice per month. You and I will meet individually once per month. We are going to figure this out.

The cost is $2,500. This can be paid ahead or in 5 payments.

Oh, and this isn’t open to everybody. To qualify for this group, you must either currently have at least 50% of your adults in groups or you’ve completed Exponential Groups Coaching (or you have a very compelling reason to convince me you should be in.)

To apply for the Exponential Growth coaching group, please fill out this short survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KC8KQ9W

If you have any questions, please email me: allen@allenwhite.org or give me a call 949-235-7428.

I hope you’ll join me.

Allen

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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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Hurricanes and Your Fall Launch

By Allen White

Photo: Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

The timing of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma couldn’t be worse considering when many churches in the Houston area, Florida, and other places are getting ready for their Fall Small Group Launches. If your congregation and community have been drastically effected by these storms, here are some things to consider:

Is Your Topic Sensitive to Hurricane Victims?

I’ve talked to more than one pastor in the past week, who were questioning their Fall series based on the devastation of hurricanes. Both were planning a financial or generosity series this Fall. The timing couldn’t be worse for these topics. The reality is that many people have lost a lot and some have lost everything. The harder truth will come when folks apply for government assistance only to find 1 out of 5 will be declined. People will be dealing with grief, anger, and depression. A financial or generosity series will only rub salt in the wound.

One Houston area church has already called an audible. They postponed their financial series and are quickly putting together a series on hope. They realize their people will need an uplifting message at this point. How are they pulling this off? They are having a study written for them through LifeWay’s smallgroup.com, then they are shooting weekly videos by their pastors which their congregation can access from Youtube. For the folks who haven’t connected their computers with the internet, they might still need a DVD. Just duplicate single session DVDs each week. You don’t need a menu, just insert the disk and let it play. Some churches have even created series like this with a smartphone.

Are You Focusing on the Right Thing?

These storms have left a lot of people with a real mess. Now, while everyone was stuck at home because their workplaces were closed or gasoline was unavailable to get them to work, there were plenty of neighbors available to help each other deal with storm damage. Once people can go back to work, the damage won’t go away by itself. Maybe instead of small groups focusing on group meetings for the next 4-6 weeks, they should focus on group life and serving.

God speaks to us and works through us when we serve those in need. With so much need around us, maybe it’s time to put down our Bibles and pick up our tools. This doesn’t mean the group should never meet. But, for a season maybe the group should follow a different pattern. The community as well as the group will be blessed for it.

Final Caution

From my viewpoint in the upstate of South Carolina, we are getting the remainder of Tropical Storm Irma today. Rain is steady and winds are strong, but we’re not in crisis, even though bottled water is sold out at every store. We are safe and dry inside our homes and workplaces here. If I were sitting in Miami or Houston today, maybe my admonition would be stronger (or weaker).

Please don’t take these thoughts as gospel. You must take your senior pastor’s lead on the best way to proceed this Fall. You can share this post with them and say you found this from some know-it-all on the internet. God speaks to your pastor. He will give you the right direction. This is just food for thought.

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Change Your Focus to Maximize Your Group Growth

By Allen White 

Exponential Groups is not so much a strategy or model as it is a focus and an attitude. Your focus determines your result. Exponential results require exponential thinking. What are you thinking about?

1. Are You Focused on Group Members?

If your focus is connecting people into groups, you are not thinking exponentially. Your groups are growing by addition. Think about it. You handpick the leaders and train them. You collect sign up cards or have a website to connect people into groups. It’s not a bad way to go, except that you work hard to start a few groups at a time or to plug people into groups only to find the leader doesn’t call the prospective members, the new members don’t show, or they do show, but they don’t stick with the group.

Now, you can arrange the connections by geography, affinity, age, hobby, and so on, but let’s face it: growth by addition is a lot of work with very few results. Just the administrative task of processing all of those sign up cards is nightmare enough. Then, you face the heartbreaking result of how ineffective all of your efforts were. It’s time to change your focus.

2. Are Your Focused on Group Leaders?

If your focus is on group leaders developing apprentices and multiplying, dividing, or splitting your groups, your focus is not exponential. Your groups might be growing by multiplication…maybe. At one point, I had encouraged, challenged, and possibly threatened my group leaders to find an apprentice for seven years. They couldn’t find one. No one in their groups looked like an apprentice. The irony was that I recruited members out of their group to train to become leaders, so we could at least continue growing by addition. Finally, one of my leaders, Carlos, trained an apprentice and launched a new group. After seven years of effort, that was the only one. Some multiplication, huh?

Now there are places where this focus is successful, but I have found this is less common. If this is what you’re doing, and it’s working for you, then you might not need to listen to me. Multiply away, but you’re still not thinking exponentially.

3. Are Your Focused on Church-wide Campaigns?

If your focus is on recruiting leaders, you still aren’t thinking exponentially. Maybe your pastor makes the cattle call for leaders or hosts to lead your next church-wide campaign. Now this thinking is more exponential than addition or multiplication, it’s on the right track, but it’s still not there.

On the positive side, church-wide campaigns delay the requirements for leadership, so there are more potential leaders. These leaders self-identify, which eliminates the task of recruiting. They can even gather their own groups. After all, followers are the requirement for leadership. As John Maxwell says, “If you think you’re a leader and have no followers, you’re only taking a walk.”

The other thing a campaign brings is a easy to use tool, like a video-based curriculum, which enables the new leader to be more friendly than scholarly, but it also maintains quality, because you have determined what is being taught in the group. The non-teacher feels good about teaching, and pastors feel good about letting them lead.

But, when the campaign ends, even if the groups continue on with another study, this growth is still more like multiplication and less like exponential. It has the potential to be exponential, but it’s not there. The goal is usually to connect 100 percent of the people into groups. But, what if this thinking is too small?

4. Are You Thinking Exponentially?

Exponential thinking is a shift in how we view our congregations. Are they sheep who need a shepherd? Can their needs only be met by a pastor? Careful: that might betray some co-dependency on your part. Is your congregation full of people who are unqualified to lead? How do you see them?

Some pastors see their congregations as an audience. The people are given worship and teaching on Sunday. They receive Bible studies throughout the week. The pastors direct the ministries they serve in. The people are cared for by the pastors: hospital visits, counseling sessions, cups of coffee. For some pastors this is a comfortable situation. Then, your church grows beyond 10 people, and you have a problem.

But, what if your congregation wasn’t an audience to be served, but an army to be empowered? What if every person in your church was empowered to gather a few people, maybe just one person, and do something intentional about their spiritual growth? What if pastors focused more on equipping people and not doing the ministry themselves? Please keep your excuses at bay for a minute and dream with me.

If everyone — church member or attender — is leading a group, who is in their groups? Good question. People who are not in your church. This doesn’t mean stealing sheep from another flock. There are plenty of people with stressful lives, marriage problems, parenting challenges, life controlling problems, and spiritual questions who could be invited to these groups. The challenge is providing resources that are biblical, yet less churchy to those who need help.

I’ve seen glimpses of this. Neighbors gathered. People with similar hobbies and interests. Whether the group is the Holy Smokers in South Carolina who make barbeque or the Holy Smokes in Colorado who light up cigars. I’ve seen commuters on the same morning train doing a Bible study and coworkers meeting at lunch.

This doesn’t need to be coerced. This doesn’t require a grand strategy. It only requires a shift in the pastor’s thinking and an opportunity for their people to lead a “group.”

Not everyone will do this all at once. In fact, I’ve never seen 100 percent of any church do anything all at once. Start with your innovators — that 4 percent who are willing to try anything. Then, tell their stories to your early adopters, the next 12 percent. Now, you have 16 percent of your church leading. If you’ve got 16 percent leading, then you’re becoming exponential already. They will influenced the next 34 percent of early mid-adopters. You’ve made it past 50 percent. The other half will take a little more time, but it’s worth it.

God wants to use your people. Whether you focus on addition or multiplication, imagine how God could use them. But, imagine if the impact of your people touching the lives a four, six, ten, or twelve people outside of your church. Imagine. That’s exponential.

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