The temptation to start new groups after Easter is fairly irresistible. Easter is by far the largest Sunday of the year. Why not launch groups from the largest crowd you’ll see all year? You might not see them again until Christmas.
But, there are three group killers after Easter: June, July and August. Why start groups in the Spring only to watch them die out over the Summer? It seems they would have a better chance of survival in the Fall.
I have to admit this is exactly what I used to think about launching groups off of Easter, but I had a change of heart once I discovered ways to sustain 80 percent of those new Spring groups in the Fall. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Groups Need a Next Step.
Most new groups do not have an opinion of what they want to study next. How many times has a new group leader presented a selection of curriculum to the group only to hear, “They all look good. Why don’t you pick one.” Happens almost every time.
Of course, the other factor here is the fact you invited folks to join a group for six weeks and not for the rest of their lives. For some strange reason, once the six weeks ends, they feel like their commitment is up – because it is.
The first time we launched groups in the Spring, we gathered the new leaders mid-way through the Spring study and invited them to join our next series which began on the second Sunday ofOctober. Then, we held our breath. It’s a long stretch from mid-May to mid-October. October held a big surprise.
When we gathered groups in the Fall to give them a sneak peek at the Fall curriculum, 80 percent of the groups who started in the Spring were right there to join the Fall study. You could have knocked me over with a feather. By giving the groups a next step, even a huge step over four months, is key to helping groups sustain. If I hadn’t experienced this first hand, honestly, I wouldn’t have believed it.
If your groups were launched with a video-based curriculum, you should offer another video-based curriculum as a next step. This could be your next church-wide campaign or a curriculum about how to be a small group. Over the years, I’ve challenged churches to create their own new group curriculum, but no one has taken me up on it so far. I decided to make this easier for you. I have written a new study called Community: Starting a Healthy Group which comes with the video scripts for you to record your own videos! (Releases March 30, 2019).
Whatever you choose, offer a next step to your groups and most will continue.
2. Very Few People Take the Entire Summer Off.
Only a handful of folks spend the entire summer at the beach. For the rest of us, chances are we will miss more weekend services in the Summer than group meetings. Before the group hits Memorial Day ask everyone to bring their calendars. Then, find six dates during the Summer when the group can meet. You might choose a six session study or you might choose one of the options below.
The six dates probably won’t fit neatly in a row, but that’s okay. Even if the group can only meet once per month, it’s a great way to stay connected to group life, even if you don’t have a formal group meeting.
3. Summer is a Great Time to Recruit New People to Your Group.
You will find more neighbors outdoors during the Summer than any other time of year. With longer days and kids out of school, why not host a neighborhood block party with your group? Roll the barbecue grill out onto your driveway to grill a few hot dogs. Rent an inflatable bounce house for the kids. Bring plenty of lawn chairs. Maybe even have a little music. Invite everybody.
People will wonder by and join in before you know it. This is a great way to meet your neighbors, and maybe even invite them to your group. By putting the party in the front yard rather than the backyard, neighbors will come and see what’s going on.
4. Get Your Group Outside.
Group discussions don’t work so well outside. The neighbors haven’t agreed to confidentiality for what they hear over the backyard fence. Outdoor Bible studies usually don’t work, but there are plenty of other reasons to go outside.
Who does your group know who needs help? Plan a service day and help a neighbor. They don’t need to ask the church office, or even inform the church. They just need to look around and get to work.
Experiencing life together in a different setting will add depth and richness to your group. Once everyone sees the group in action, the dynamic of your meetings and studies will become dramatically different.
Summer shouldn’t be the death of small groups. In fact, June, July and August can breathe new life into both new and existing groups. With a little planning and a lot of flexibility, Summer could become the best time of year for group life.
In a perfect world, the sole focus of your church beyond the weekend service would be groups. You do not live in that world. But, part of the reason you don’t have more groups is because you are not sending a clear message about groups…to your senior pastor.
Your Church Cares About What Your Pastor Cares About
Churches with a passion for evangelism are led by an evangelist. Churches with in-depth teaching are lead by a teacher. Churches with deep care and compassion are led by a pastor. Your pastor’s passions are expressed in the life of the church. The church cares about what your pastor cares about.
In most churches, the weekend service is the biggest thing that the church does in a week. It’s not necessarily the most important thing the church does, but it is the biggest. The weekend service has a lot of moving parts. For pastors who preach every week, it’s like having a term paper due on a weekly basis. There are production meetings and rehearsals. There are theme planning sessions and set design. And, don’t forget to fill the fog machine. The weekend service is a big deal.
But, why does everything have to be about the weekend? If your weekend service wasn’t strong, then the offering wouldn’t be strong, then you wouldn’t have a job, so don’t go there. This doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario. Your pastor could care about groups, but you need to give your pastor reasons to care about them.
Your Pastor Cares About a Lot of Things
Pastors care about reaching the lost, caring for the flock, making disciples, connecting with the community, raising a budget, wrangling with board members, guiding staff, communicating the message, building buildings, raising up the next generation, and yes, gathering in groups. (If you don’t think so, then, remember who hired you.) Research shows that small groups offer effective solutions to everything your pastor cares about – Outreach, Evangelism, Attendance, Giving, Disciple-making, Leadership Development, Serving – you name it. The Senior Pastor’s Guide to Groups clearly and concisely builds the case for you.
For most pastors, there is a dominant theme that rises to the top: teaching, outreach, evangelism, compassion, service, leadership, care, or something similar. You heard this in point one. Groups will never replace this dominant theme in your pastor’s heart and mind, and that’s okay.
I’ve heard small group pastors/directors complain about not being able to get their senior pastor on board with groups. Here’s the deal – it’s your senior pastor’s boat. You don’t need to worry about getting your pastor on board. So, forget about nagging your way to success. There are ways to raise the value of groups in your church with your pastor’s full participation.
Align Groups with What Your Pastor Cares About
It’s time to get on board your pastor’s boat. What is the main focus of the next sermon series? What is your pastor’s passion? How can groups support where your pastor wants to go?
There is a small group curriculum for practically every sermon series a pastor could think of. If there’s not, then you can create one.
If your pastor is an evangelist, then propose a felt-needs series for members to invite their neighbors. They can share the gospel in a low pressure environment.
If your pastor is a teacher, then give your people more of what they want by creating curriculum based on your pastor’s teaching.
What is your pastor the most passionate about? Linking groups with where your pastor is headed is far more effective than trying to convince your pastor to follow your direction. A church-wide campaign aligned with your pastor’s passion will help you recruit more leaders and launch more groups than you’ve ever had. Your pastor is interested because the teaching goes further. The people are more interested, because you’re giving them more of what they already want.
Cast Vision Through Storytelling
Pastors need fresh stories for their sermons (and, their kids need a break). Start collecting stories from your groups. Ask them what God is doing in their groups. Ask them about challenges that group members have overcome through the support of the group. Ask them about their own reluctance to lead initially and how God has blessed them. These stories can come from surveys, interviews, or conversations. Ask your leaders and group members for stories.
Capture these stories either in print or on video or both. As you build your library of stories, find out where your pastor is headed with the next sermon or series. Some pastors plan a year in advance. Other pastors aren’t sure what they’re preaching this coming Sunday. Either way, your story library will be a huge asset to your pastor. And, since it’s a small group story, the story will cast vision for groups. Every pastor needs stories. Become your pastor’s go-to story source.
No one in your church should care more about small groups than you. That’s why you do what you do. You have to manage your passion for groups or else it can spill over into anger or resentment. Then, passion becomes self-defeating.
If it feels like groups are on the backburner, it’s your job to move groups to the front burner. Think of every possible angle where you can launch groups. Every event should launch groups. Every sermon series could start groups. Every holiday offers an excuse for groups – Mother’s Day for women’s groups, Father’s Day for men’s groups, Valentine’s Day for couples groups, Columbus Day for singles groups (They’re searching!).
God is using your pastor to lead your church. How can you support the direction your pastor is heading with groups? If you can’t figure out how to connect where your pastor is headed with groups, then give me a call. Here’s my cell: Nine-49-235-7428.
I must admit. I’ve never had a one night stand. But, I have offered them in a way over the years to the church.
Here’s what I’m getting at — church events are often one night stands, so to speak. These are conferences and seminars, retreats and even worship services. You get people all pumped up. You move people to a decision or commitment. People leave filled with hope only to run directly into real life. Decision is the first step to making a change, but change requires further steps to actually happen.
A classic example is the Promise Keepers movement in the 1990’s. The dynamic of bringing tens of thousands of men together in a stadium was truly inspiring. Every man pledged to be a better husband, father, brother, and son…and they really wanted to. I really wanted to. Before long, Promise Keepers inevitably became promise breakers. There were some exceptions. The issue centered around the lack of a plan. There was no next step for the men to take in order to keep those promises. This isn’t just my observation. This is the conclusion Randy Phillips, the former president of Promise Keepers, reached.
Should churches stop doing events?
Events are powerful. Women’s conferences, Men’s retreats, Marriage conferences, worship services — all of these things can be powerful catalysts for life change — but events alone do not produce transformation. Every dieter and debtor can attest to this.
Imagine the wife who has been longing for her marriage to improve. Her husband decides they should attend the church’s marriage conference. They have a great weekend. He aspires to be the godly husband she needs. She pledges to be the godly wife. The conference ends and things are different for a little while. Eventually, old patterns and routines begin to emerge. While they aspired for more, they are programmed for less. The marriage conference didn’t produce lasting change. In fact, it produced a great deal of frustration for both husband and wife.
To answer the question — if churches offer only standalone events with no next steps, then they should stop doing events. Decisions without deliberate steps lead to defeat.
Turn Wishful Thinking into Willful Action
For every event a church plans, you must ask the question: What’s the next step? Decisions without steps and support lead to discouragement and failure. This is why so many people in your church are faking it — they don’t want anyone to know that they aren’t as together as they appear. They know what they’re supposed to be. They’re just not that good. None of us are, really.
You may not have any influence over what events are offered at your church, but you are not helpless. Look at every event, every retreat, every conference, and every service as an opportunity to offer a next step. What is your church promoting right now?
A financial series — offer Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.
A marriage conference — Does the speaker have a book or a study to start groups?
A parenting seminar — Start groups with parents at various stages.
A weekend service — Create a sermon discussion guide (maybe with a short video).
You get the picture.
If you are responsible for these events, then you can insist on a next step. If you’re not, then you could certainly recommend one, and even offer to run it.
Is your church offering spiritual one night stands? If you are not capitalizing on the decisions and momentum of an event to create groups for lasting change, then you are squandering a great opportunity (and frustrating your people). Aren’t you ready to see lasting change?
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 likeThe Crucified Life from The Christian Life Triologyfits 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.