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Fall is a prime season to launch groups in churches across the country. In my consulting work, I am working with churches from Florida to Washington and Southern California to New York City. Among churches of various sizes and denominations, we are seeing some tremendous results. But, not every church hits a home run with their group launch. Here are some reasons why.
- You picked the wrong topic.
Small groups are a great vehicle for people to grow spiritually. But, in order for people to grow in a group, they need to actually be in a group. If a church’s goal is to connect their congregation into groups, then a felt needs topic is very attractive. If you give people something they want to study, they will jump right in. If you offer something they “should” study, it may not go so well.
Let me go on the record: Healthy, balanced small groups cannot live by felt needs topics alone. But, kicking off groups usually doesn’t go well with series on evangelism, stewardship, fasting, or other self-sacrificial studies. You need to establish your goal. If you want to increase the number of groups, then go felt needs. If you want to grow your people deeper, then offer these topics to your established groups.
- You set the bar too high.
The more requirements for group leadership, the fewer leaders you will recruit. If you required all of your new leaders to be church members, complete a lengthy leadership training process, or graduate with their Master of Divinity, you certainly limited the number of groups you could launch this Fall.
Your level of acceptable risk will greatly determine the reward. If you invite people to do a study with their friends, then you are only limited to people with friends. If you increase the requirements, you lessen the impact.
If you choose to lower the bar next time, then lessen the risk by forming “unpublished” groups. If the groups don’t appear on your church’s website, group listing, or bulletin, you are not implying any kind of official endorsement of the groups. If friends invite friends, you will form good, lasting groups, and if someone gets in a bad group, well, it was their friend’s group after all.
- You focused on recruiting group members.
As a pastor, if the invitation is for potential group members, you may or may not actually start groups. You will certainly give yourself a lot of busy work trying to find enough leaders to accommodate the prospects or trying to place people in the right group. But, you’ve missed the mark and the point.
If you have a bunch of prospective group members, you might have a group. If you have a leader, you WILL have a group. In fact, the best way to get into a group is to start a group — you’re automatically in! When the focus is on recruiting leaders, you will greatly increase your number of groups. If your focus is on members, you will probably just end up with a mess.
- You put too much distance between the invitation and the response.
When you or your senior pastor made the invitation for people to start a group, how and when did they respond?
If they were sent to the church website to register, they didn’t go.
If they were sent to the church lobby, they walked right by.
If they were invited to a meeting in the near future, they forgot.
If they had a sign up card in their hand during the service, bingo, they’re in!
If they were sent an email to remind them to sign up at church on Sunday, they forgot again.
If they were sent an email with a registration link, then they signed up.
The less distance between the invitation and the response, the greater the result.
- You gave too many steps from “Yes” to starting the group.
If the pathway from the response to the group starting took too many steps, then you lost leaders at every phase.
If you recruited months in advance of your group launch, there were too many days before they started. Cold feet and good intentions didn’t get them there.
If you required a training class, a membership class, a pastoral interview, a group orientation, a group connection, and a final debrief meeting, you lost, lost, lost, lost and lost new group leaders.
If you kept the steps to a minimum, based on your own acceptable level of risk, you kept far more than any of the above scenarios.
- Your recruitment period was too short.
A few years ago, I was working with two churches of similar size who were launching groups on the same week. One church recruited 20 new leaders. The other recruited 60. The first church recruited leaders for one week. The second church recruited for three weeks in a row. Triple the recruiting equaled triple the result. You do the math.
- Your senior pastor was not on board.
If your senior pastor was hesitant about your next series in any way, it hurt you. Half-hearted appeals and hit or miss invitations lead to lackluster results.
If your senior pastor didn’t make the invitation for leaders, that was a huge miss. The senior pastor will get three times the result of any other staff member. I’ve served as an associate pastor for 20 of my 24 years of ministry. As soon as I learned this, I never made the invitation again.
How do you get your senior pastor on board with the series you recommend? You don’t. If you want your group launch to succeed, you have to get on board with where your senior pastor wants to go. If you respect your senior pastor’s direction, you will see respectable results. If you try to pressure your senior pastor into a series that is not his idea, you are on your own (literally).
Last Sunday, I worshipped with a church who had never had small groups. Their senior pastor decided it was time. He cast vision for groups. He kept the response close to the invitation. He focused on recruiting leaders. He did it all right. Then, on Sunday afternoon, 360 new group leaders showed up for training (and they have two more weeks to recruit!)
Learn the lessons from your failed attempt. There is no shame in failure, but there is shame in not learning.
Free Fall Group Launch Debrief – Based on YOUR Questions and Issues
with Allen White
1. Take a brief survey to share where your launch fell short.
2. Login to the webinar on:
Tuesday, October 17 at 3pm ET/ 2pm CT/ 1pm MT/ Noon PT
Wednesday, October 19 at 11am ET/ 10am CT/ 9am MT/ 8am PT
Take the Survey and Register Here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/YGW6WZ7
One Participant from Each Webinar will receive a free copy of Exponential Groups by Allen White. You must be on the webinar to win.
This new conference is THE small group conference for small group point people. When Willow Creek stopped their conferences, a sizeable gap appeared in the small group community. GroupLife Southwest aims to fill that gap by offering multiple voices and viewpoints in the small group movement.
Speakers include Bill Willits (North Point), Chris Surratt (Lifeway), Hugh Halter (Forge), Mindy Caliguire (SoulCare), Tim Cooper (North Point), Dave Enns (North Coast Church), Todd Engstrom (The Austin Stone), Mike Foster (People of the Second Chance), Boyd Pelley (ChurchTeams), Mark Howell (Conference Host) and…Allen White!
Use the code: ALLEN for a substantial discount.
For more information and to register: http://www.grouplifesouthwest.com/
By Allen White
The Christmas season that starts with Thanksgiving and goes through New Year’s Day is pretty intense for most of us. (Or does the season start at Halloween now?) Office parties, family gatherings, school functions, church services, shopping, shopping, shopping, cooking, cooking, cooking – boy, the list goes on. With all of this activity going on, should your group take a break? Well, a lot depends on your group. Here are a few things to think about:
1. Ask your group. While some people feel that they can barely come up for air during the holidays, others might experience a great deal of loneliness. Even though it’s a busy time, most people are still working every day and going about their daily routine. Before you decide to cancel, see what your group wants to do. If there are three or four who would like to meet, then you might consider meeting. Please note, however, that if your schedule has gone berserk, then it might be good to take a break for your own sake. But, make sure that your group is taken care of. Will someone spend Thanksgiving alone? Maybe a group member could include them in a family gathering.
2. Have a party. There is a healthy ebb and flow to small groups. Most groups can complete a study or two during the months of August through November, then will start again in January. Your group is not “more spiritual” by persisting in an inductive Bible study through the holidays. But, there is more to group that study. Having just completed a study or two in the Fall, your group has something to celebrate. Throw a party. This might even be a good time to invite prospective members and neighbors to check out the group and possibly join for your next study.
3. Serve together as a group. The holiday season offers many opportunities to serve the underprivileged in the community. Homeless shelters, soup kitchens and children’s homes have a great deal of needs, especially during the holidays. While many groups and organizations will help during the Christmas season, the reality is that these groups have needs year-round. Christmas is a great time to introduce your group to serving together. If they are interested, then plan to serve on a regular basis.
4. Give your group the next step. Some groups continue to meet during the holidays. That’s perfectly okay. Some groups decide to take a break. Some groups will follow one of the suggestions above. Whatever your group chooses to do, you will want to announce to your group when you will start again in January. They need to know that there is a next step. Announce your start date and maybe even your new study.
By Allen White
I didn’t start out leading groups in a megachurch. In fact, 26 years ago I joined the staff of a church with 300 adults which quickly grew down to 85 adults after our founding pastor’s resignation. But, then we began to grow again.
Learn how to launch groups:
- When your church is still small.
- When you hit the 250 mark.
- When you hit the 400 mark.
- When you hit the 750 mark and beyond.
Every stage has its own challenges. Let me walk you through the each stage as well as what to implement when.
Join me on:
Wednesday, February 24, 2016 at 1pm ET/ Noon CT/ 11am MT/ 10am PT
Thursday, February 25, 2016 at 11am ET/ 10am CT/ 9am MT/ 8am PT
Space is limited to the first 24 churches who register for each day.
To register: allenwhite.org/webinars
Thanksgiving has always been a special time of year for me. As a child, my family would travel out to Hayes, Kansas, where we would spend Thanksgiving with my Aunt Sally and Cousin Vhonda. This was one of the best things that my family did.
I remember eating plenty of food, putting on musical performances with my sister and my cousin – we had a lot of fun. The evening would usually involve watching The Wizard of Oz and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I still have nightmares of those flying monkeys.
My twelfth birthday fell on Thanksgiving Day. My aunt made a special Happy Birthday pumpkin pie for me that year. That’s still a special memory for me.
Your Thanksgiving may be filled with other things this year. I’m sure there’s food and football. Maybe a little family tension. Maybe a long walk on a cool Autumn day to work off the dinner.
Thanksgiving in November is a uniquely American holiday. Thanksgiving in Canada was last month (they get an extra month of Christmas shopping). In the Bible, thanksgiving is a heart attitude that goes beyond a single holiday.
In Joshua 3-4, we read how the people of Israel miraculously crossed the Jordan River. This was the final boundary into the Promised Land. After the tribes had passed through the river, Joshua instructed one man from each tribe to gather a stone. These twelve stones were placed in the river as a reminder of God’s work on their behalf. The intent was that years later when their children and grandchildren asked about the stones, parents and grandparents would stop and reflect on God’s goodness to them and His power to overcome an overwhelming obstacle.
As you celebrate Thanksgiving, stop for five minutes and think about how God has helped you to overcome obstacles in your life in the past year, five years or even your whole life. If it’s appropriate, share this with the others who are gathered with you.
Thanksgiving brings to mind the faithfulness of God, which gives us the confidence to face the future. Our memories may point us to monumental accomplishments of faith. Our memories may look back on the broken road that led us to Christ. Either way, God’s faithfulness is solid ground to build our futures on.
What giving up control taught me about effective group ministry
By Allen White
I hear a lot of pastors who debate the need for a quality experience at the expense of connecting and growing the vast majority of their congregations and their communities into their group system. I also hear the reverse of this which is in order to embrace a large quantity of groups, then quality must somehow be sacrificed.
We approach ministry as if we have all of the time in the world. Somehow we think our people will live forever, and so will the people our people need to reach for Christ. But, let’s be honest, we don’t have the luxury of time.
The Apostle Paul didn’t have the luxury of time either. Reviewing his journeys in the Book of Acts, Paul never spent more than 6-18 months in any one location, yet in his quest to spread the Gospel throughout the known world and to reach Spain, he put leaders in place everywhere he planted a church, then gave them the crash course on ministry. We would call this “quick and dirty” before we would call it “quality.” Paul gave them their marching orders, then basically instructed them, “Do the best you can. The Holy Spirit will guide you. If you run into trouble, then send me a letter.” Then, Paul was off to the next place.
In living with the tension between the quality and quantity of ministry, I want you to consider these words from Peter Drucker on the Profession of Management:
“…there are two different kinds of compromise. One is expressed in an old proverb, ‘Half a loaf of bread is better than no bread.’ The other, in the story of the judgment of Solomon, is clearly based on the realization that ‘half a baby is worse than no baby at all.’ In the first instance, the boundary conditions are still being satisfied. The purpose of bread is to provide food, and half a loaf is still food. Half a baby, however, does not satisfy the boundary conditions. For half a baby is not half of a living and growing child.
“It is a waste of time to worry about what will be acceptable and what a decision maker should or should not say so as not to evoke resistance…In other words, the decision maker gains nothing by starting out with the question, ‘What is acceptable?’ For in the process of answering it, he or she usually gives away the important things and loses any chance to come up with an effective — let alone the right — answer.”
In retelling this story, my friend and mentor, Carl George once asked this question which changed the course of my thinking about small group ministry: “Are your groups more like a baby or a loaf of bread? Because if it’s like a baby, then half a baby won’t do. You want a perfect baby. But, if it’s more like a loaf of bread and you’re starving, any amount of bread will help to alleviate the hunger.”
In managing the tension between quality and quantity, we must figure out a way to embrace the Genius of the And, as coined by Jim Collins in Built to Last. This isn’t an either/or circumstance, in that, if there is no quantity, then quality doesn’t actually matter. The question is whether the limitation on the quantity is a matter of necessity or a personal need for control.
As I wrestled with this tension when I was first introduced to the idea of rapidly expanding group system, I pleaded with God, “But, I need quality control.”
God called me on it. He spoke to me and said, “Allen, when you say ‘quality control,’ quality is your excuse.”
God doesn’t go easy on me. But, I got the point, and moved forward.
What do you think?
Trying anything new involves a certain amount of risk. Some people jump into things haphazardly and take foolish risks. Others hold back and risk little or nothing. Sometimes no risk is riskier than the other options.
The bottom line is change causes a sense of loss. You’re saying goodbye to the way things used to be and welcoming something new, sometimes unproven. It’s risky business for sure.
If we risk too much on the wrong things, we ended up bankrupting the leadership credit we had in the bank. But, if we don’t risk any change, we are just burying our leadership “talents” in the ground, which really doesn’t help anyone.
The fear of every pastor is that change will alienate the base. If the stakeholders become upset, they might leave, or worse yet, they might stay but just stop giving. If the change alienates the base, reduces giving, and ultimately costs the pastor his job, then why would anyone want to take a risk?
It’s possible to take risks that aren’t so risky. There’s a big difference between a strategic risk and reckless abandon. The approach makes a big difference.
How much risk are you comfortable with?
By Allen White
Multisite churches have multiplied ministries and reached the lost very effectively over the past decade in the US. What started as a desperate need for expansion at Seacoast Church’s Mt. Pleasant, SC campus and the subsequent denial by their city council to let them expand led to the launch of a new model that duplicated services across counties, states and eventually countries in the case of churches like Saddleback. The fix to a zoning problem became a launch pad for evangelism. Now, for the next wave.
A while back on a coaching visit to Seacoast Church, Josh Surratt mentioned to me that a family from their church had moved to the state of Maine and had 40 people meeting in their living room every Sunday watching the Seacoast service online. I said to Josh, “Maybe it’s time to redefine what a campus is.”
Prior to this, a multisite campus had always been a designated building, either rented or owned, some distance from the main/broadcast/original campus that provided a pastoral staff, worship, children’s ministry and other things associated with a church. Now there’s an opportunity for a new model that requires less overhead and could be put in any situation in a town of any size anywhere in the world.
While many churches will reach into the suburbs or into other metropolitan areas, few churches are reaching into small places. I don’t think it’s on the radar to plant a multisite campus in Possum Kingdom, South Carolina, the hometown of Bo and Bear from the band Needtobreathe. If you’re not familiar with Possum Kingdom, it’s right next to Honea Path. There are a lot of towns that no one’s ever heard of before and some of them have very strange names but every town has a group of people who could make up a microsite church.
Now some would object and say, “Doesn’t every small town have some sort of a small church already?” and the answer is yes. The problem is that we live in a national culture. We watch the same television programs and listen to the same music whether we live in New York City or in Podunk Holler, Arkansas. Small churches in small towns cannot compete with what the culture has to offer. It’s just hard to get people’s attention. There are churches, however, that have proven to develop effective ministries in our culture that have a broad reach. By bringing a microsite campus into a small town, you can bring in the quality and effectiveness of a large church ministry and package it for a living room. You could reach not just thousands of people in a metropolitan area but dozens to hundreds of people in a small town. If you do the math, there are more people in small towns than there are in large cities.
The idea of Microsite Churches is seminal at this point. A few churches are beginning to pilot this model or are considering a pilot. Let’s think about the keys to a worship service: you need music of some sort which can be prerecorded on video with subtitles and offered in a living room either through a download or DVD. You need teaching. Teaching on video is very common. I worship at a very large multi-site church and the teaching is by video. I’m at a multisite campus I have only ever met the senior pastor one time, but the video teaching makes you feel like you’re really there. The fact is when churches have the pastors on a screen, people will watch the screen even if the pastor is teaching live in the room.
There are a lot of things to think through: giving, childcare, counseling, marriage ceremonies, etc. But, let’s start with these few paragraphs and discuss what might be next. What do you like? What do you not like? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.