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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.
The new year is an awesome time for new starts. Everyone is planning to lose weight, lose debt, learn a foreign language, and of course, grow in their faith. The new year is an ideal time to start new groups too. Why not leverage the momentum before mid-February hits and new year’s resolutions crash and burn?
The way you launch groups in the new year, however, will greatly affect your success. While this is an ideal time to form new groups, how and when you form groups will largely determine whether or not those groups last for more than one series, or in some cases, even get started. Here are some mistakes to avoid in new year’s launches.
Mistake #1: Launching in Early January.
Senior pastors love to start new sermon series after the first of the year. While the first Sunday of the year may be for vision casting or giving a “State of the Church” address, when it gets to the second Sunday, they are ready to get their preach on and dive into a new series. This is great for sermon series timing, but terrible for group timing.
If your church launches groups in early January, it forces you to form groups in December. Have you lived through a December at church? No one is thinking about January. If they were, then they wouldn’t be buying so many Christmas presents on their credit cards.
Over the years, I’ve tried to recruit and train new small group leaders in December. I’ve also found myself standing in an empty room wondering if I had missed God’s calling on my life.
People don’t think about the new year until they are actually in the new year. To effectively launch groups in January, you need to use the first three weeks to form groups, then launch in late January, or better yet, launch in early February.
Mistake #2: Failing to Leverage the Christian Holiday of Super Bowl Sunday.
I know some of you might immediately be objecting to associating something as holy and spiritual as a small group with something as hedonistic as Super Bowl Sunday. After all, promoting anything about the Super Bowl will only weaken the attendance of the Sunday night service. At least, that’s the way I grew up.
But, think about this: how would your members respond to the idea of small groups if it resembled something that looked more like their Super Bowl parties and less like what they fear a small group might be? No one calls the church to see who they should invite to a Super Bowl party. They invite their friends, co-workers, neighbors and family members. That’s the same group they should invite to their, well, group. In fact, if groups were launched after the Super Bowl, maybe the Super Bowl party could serve as an “open house” for a group and then the next week, the study could start.
You may be saying, “Well, not every Super Bowl party would be suitable to introduce people to small groups. They might overeat or something and be a bad witness.” These things could happen. But, what if a small group became more “normal” to the average Christian’s life?. That would be a huge win.
Mistake #3: Launching Groups in January without an Easter Plan.
The downfall of most church-wide campaigns, including some I’ve launched over the years, is you can experience great success for 6 weeks, then the whole thing falls off the cliff. But, it doesn’t have to. If in the middle of your post-Super Bowl series (formerly called “New Year’s series”), you announced a next step series which would run between the Christian holidays of Easter Sunday and Memorial Day, you could easily retain 80 percent of the groups that start in your Super Bowl series. By offering a next step, your groups are given a good reason to stay together.
Now, if your church is about to launch groups this Sunday, it might be time to take a timeout and regroup. Call an audible. Do what you need to do before you have to throw a Hail Mary or punt!
If you try this, you should get at least 50 percent of your people connected into groups. If you don’t, call me. We’ll figure something out!
Well, this has been quite a year on the blog. I don’t post much. In fact, my reader feedback tells me that the infrequency of my posts is a plus, which works with my hectic schedule.
This year had one huge surprise. A few days after Robin Williams’ death, I woke up in the middle of the night in a hotel room in Chicago and felt like I should say something to curtail some of the hatefulness I had been reading online. Not only was this post the most read post of all time on my site, it was the most read post of all time on Rick Warren’s pastors.com! We will miss Robin and his talent dearly. What an amazing individual. Here’s the post along with a few other “most read” posts for 2014:
And, of course, the funnest post of the year:
And, there was one controversial post I wrote about the Host Home Strategy that I had to take down. Email me if you want to read it.
As long as you guys will read, I will continue to write (infrequently).
Happy New Year!
I’m pulling one out of the archives for you to think about as you are forming new small groups this Fall.
Some of you know me because I was your pastor at one time. Some of you know me as a fellow small group pastor. Some know me as the guy who wrote an article about Robin Williams that half a million people read. And, some know me as the Vice President of Lifetogether Ministries.
Lifetogether has had an amazing 12 months. We’ve created projects The Daniel Plan curriculum for Rick Warren, Destiny and Elijah for Dr. Tony Evans, Lifegiving Relationships for the Association of Related Churches (ARC), I See a Church with Greg Surratt and Josh Surratt at Seacoast Church, What If with Jonathan Falwell at Thomas Road Baptist Church, You Have It in You by Pastor Sheryl Brady at The Potter’s House of North Dallas, Believe with Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, and In the Gap by Pastor Wilfredo (Choco) De Jesus. And, I’m forgetting a bunch of others.
I am not a video producer. I am an executive producer, which means I solve the problems and pay the bills. While it was fun developing these projects, the greater fun for me is coaching churches who are launching small groups using these curriculum titles. It’s not about numbers. For me, it’s about an ordinary believer gathering a few friends around a user friendly curriculum and experiencing God using them to serve others. That’s why I do this every day.
What do you think about video curriculum?
I found this great video posted by my buddy, Mark Howell. Visit his blog over at http://markhowelllive.com.