Making Group Connections that Last

By Allen White 

Many methods of connecting people into groups fail. By fail, I mean they don’t create lasting connections, which means every time you launch groups, you’re recruiting new leaders and connecting people to new groups. Here’s how this usually goes:

Step 1. A prospective group member turns in a sign up card, or requests a group on the church’s website, or selects a group from a small group directory.

Step 2. The church staff must either place the person in a group or send their information to the leader of an open group.

Step 3. The group leader may or may not contact the prospective member.

Step 4. If the prospective members are contacted, they may or may not show up to the group.

Step 5. If the prospective members show up for the group, they may or may not continue with the group.

Step 6. The Small Group Pastor/Director wants to jump out the nearest window.

At least this is how it’s gone in the churches I’ve been a part of. Typically, each step down the list cuts the previous number in half — 100 people sign up, then 50 are contacted, then 25 show up to a group, and then 12.5 continue with the group. Talk about diminishing returns!

But, this isn’t the worst of it.

In my zeal to connect people into groups, I’ve said things like, “Join a group. You’ll make some of the best friends you’ve ever had.” Yikes! I’ve actually had to go back and apologize for statements like that. Besides most people already have friends.

So, how do we connect people into groups if sign up cards, websites, and directories don’t work very well?

Everyone who has friends should start a group.

“Everyone is already in a group.” That’s the first sentence in my book, Exponential Groups. People have friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives, and others they can do a study with. The people in your church are already connected. They just need some direction in intentionally doing something about their spiritual growth. An easy to use curriculum and an experience leader to coach them will take these leader-friends a long way in developing a “small group.”

If they don’t want to “lead”…

Then, they should join the group led by their friend. Personal invitation is an amazing tool for connecting people into groups that last. Even groups who will be open to new members should start with the leader personally inviting people.

Now, if you have someone who wants to lead a group but excepts you to give them a group, they probably have a teaching gift and need a class to instruct. This will not make for a good small group.

As Steve Gladen says, “Leaders have followers.” Encourage them to bring together their own group.

If they don’t have friends…

A group may not be the answer for them. Okay, let’s face it, counseling could go a long way. But, this isn’t everybody. Some folks are new to the community or new to the church, and they legitimately don’t know anybody. How do they get in a group? If they don’t know anyone, they can’t invite people, and they won’t get invited. Now what?

This is where a Connection event or Sampler comes in. By this, I mean an Open House environment where prospective members can meet group leaders face to face. They may recognize the leader from somewhere or vice versa. At a minimum, they get a sense of whether or not the leader is someone they want to hang out with for the next 6-12 weeks. Once they’ve decided, the prospective members sign up for the specific group they want to be a part of. No cards. No cold calls. The relationship has started. They know whose house they’re going to, and the leader knows who’s coming.

Conclusion

Efficient means of connecting people are not the same as effective means. Usually a task-oriented approach to forming relationally-based groups falls short. Forget group formation as a task. By forming groups in a relational way, groups will outlast how you were forming groups previously.

This last weekend, Tim Twigg, Small Group Pastor at Victory Worship Center, Tucson, AZ, held an awesome Connection event for prospective members to join groups (pictured). As a result of this event, around 500 people were connected to groups. Now, we’ll check back with him on this blog in a few weeks and see how many continued.

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Everyone is Already in a Small Group

By Allen White 

[excerpt of Exponential Books: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential]

Everyone is already in a group.

When I say “group,” something from years of church Bible studies come to mind. You might protest that there are plenty of people who aren’t in groups like this. But it’s true. Everyone is already in a group, it’s just not the group you have in mind. People are in groups called families, friends, coworkers, neighbors, soccer moms, and many others. If your question is how are these church groups? I want to suggest you change your question to what can these groups do intentionally about their spiritual growth?

When Pastor Troy Jones from New Life Church, Renton, WA, stood up and invited his 2,500 adults to gather their friends for a six-week study, 300 adults responded to lead a group. At first glance, hundreds and hundreds of people immediately “joined groups.” But the truth is, they were already in these groups. The addition was a sermon-aligned curriculum, on-the-job training, and a support structure to help them, but, overall, these groups weren’t strangers who became friends. They were friends becoming closer to each other and closer to God.

I’ve seen this happen in churches of 50 members and churches of over 20,000, but I didn’t start thinking about groups this way.

Over twenty years ago, when we first launched groups at New Life Christian Center in Turlock, CA, I believed all of our “sheep” were lost without a “shepherd,” and there is definitely some truth to that. I looked out at our congregation of 250 or so adults and felt we needed to do something to get our people connected, as our church had rapidly grown from eighty-five to 250. As Rick Warren says, “Our church must always be growing larger and smaller at the same time. . . . there must be a balance between the large group celebrations and the small group cells.”

My senior pastor and I handpicked nine mature couples to join me and start groups. We invited our congregation to sign up for one of these groups for twelve months. Every group chose their own curriculum. I led a monthly huddle and, for the most part, was the sole coach. The groups went strong for twelve months, then all ten of them quit, including mine.

Not only was my method not multiplying groups, it wasn’t even adding. It was time to get serious about groups if they were ever going to work at our church.

I spent the summer of 1997 on sabbatical and studied churches and their groups. I attended fifteen different church services and interviewed a dozen pastors. I read about a dozen books. At the end of that research effort, our church set out to start groups in a dif-ferent way from our previous attempt. We decided to start groups using the findings Carl George presents in Prepare Your Church for the Future that were popularized by the small group model at Willow Creek Community Church. I recruited two mature lead-ers to coach and ten more leaders to lead, and we started a turbo group—a temporary group designed to give leaders a crash course in group life, then help them launch groups of their own. In the six weeks of the turbo group, we covered all of the basics of group life. (Well, at least as many basics as you can cover in six weeks.) Then we launched groups.

People filled out sign up cards to join groups, and all of the groups started on the same study about building community. This time all of the groups were starting from the same DNA. All of our leaders were expected to identify apprentice leaders who would be trained, then eventually released to start their own groups. This time we were going to move from a group method that produced no new groups to a system that would give us new groups hand over fist. Our total number of groups would grow by double or better every year. We dreamed that in just five years all of our adults would be connected into groups.

But none of my leaders could find an apprentice.

I plugged along with a new turbo group every year. I would handpick the new recruits. Some years we launched ten new groups. Other years, we launched only two. A couple of years we launched none. After seven years of pounding this nail, we had thirty percent of our eight hundred adults in groups, but we were stuck.

The thought of connecting everybody in a group was my dream, but we weren’t growing past thirty percent. We were slugging it out the old-fashioned way—raise up an apprentice, birth a group, and deal with the aftermath—but we were headed nowhere.

To download the full introduction and first chapter of Exponential Groups: CLICK HERE.

Exponential Groups is available in both paperback and ebook forms at Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, CBD.com, and Cokesbury.com.

ORDER YOUR BOOK BEFORE MARCH 1, 2017 and RECEIVE 2 FREE LIVE GROUP COACHING SESSIONS. Click here for more information.

 

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[VIDEO] Announcing Exponential Groups by Allen White

I sat down recently with my publisher, Hendrickson Publishers, for a live interview about Exponential Groups. Well, my part was live. Their part was in print, so I have to basically interview myself. I hope you enjoy this and hear my heart for equipping and empowering our people to lead groups. The video is 15 minutes, but if you want to skip around, I’ve listed the questions below along with their time stamps.

Oh, and buy the book!

  1. What is your background? (0:00)
  2. Who is the audience for Exponential Groups and what is the book about? (0:50)
  3. What has made you so passionate about expanding churches’ small groups? (1:45)
  4. What do you think is the biggest factor hindering churches from successful group-making? (2:47)
  5. What advice would you give to someone who would like to start a small group but doesn’t want to be considered its “leader”? (3:45)
  6. What are ways that a church can be creative in its approach to creating groups? (4:35)
  7. In chapter 1 you mention that a desire for control will hinder the growth of groups. For those who haven’t read the book yet, what are some other examples of factors or mental blocks that typically hold groups back from their potential to expand that you discuss in Exponential Groups? (5:42)
  8. What’s the best piece advice you’ve received about small groups? (8:02)
  9. What’s a sticky situation or failed plan that you have learned from? (9:15)
  10. What projects are you working on now or have planned for the future? (11:05)

For More Information on:

Rooted: experiencerooted.com
The Neighboring Church: theneighboringchurch.com
The Leading an Exponential Group Launch Course
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Forget 2017. Plan for 2018.

By Allen White

Photo by bestgreenscreen

You’ve either just launched groups in your church; you’re about to launch groups; or you don’t know what you’re doing. How does that feel? If you just launched groups, you’re coming up for air. Your January fire drill has come to an end. The sprint you just ran has left you panting. Once you catch your breath, you’ll be at it again. But, what if you didn’t have to lose your mind every 12 weeks to have the leaders and groups you needed? It’s simple math: 12 months gives you more time than 12 weeks. The challenge is that it’s hard to work in it and on it at the same time. Here are some reasons to focus on 2018 instead of 2017:

1. Plan for Four Times Your Current Groups in 2018.

Many of us run our group launches hand to mouth. We get the groups going that we need, then have to start getting ready for the next go ’round hoping that many of the groups will stick, but not knowing for sure. What you do know is that you’ll have to recruit leaders again in a few weeks. You just don’t know how many yet. It’s hard to think ahead when you’re living “paycheck to paycheck.” It’s hard to come up for air.

But, what happens when your church grows larger and your groups well outnumber what you’re dealing with now? Imagine that you’re a church of 200 people and your growth takes you to 800 people. You can’t hire a bunch of staff. At least, I never could. Would you stop placing people into groups, or would you ignore your family working late nights? Would you twist the arms of the usual suspects to lead groups and get another short term win? How are you going to manage four times as many groups when you probably don’t feel like you’re doing a great job managing them now?

Stop and do the math. What does 4 times look like in your church? What would you stop doing that you’re currently doing? Stop placing people into groups. Stop handpicking leaders. Start asking your senior pastor to recruit leaders. Start your coaching structure and build on it. You would definitely need to change your process.

Here’s the point: Start leading like you have 4 times as many groups now. If you wouldn’t place people into groups then, then stop placing them into groups now. If you would ask your senior pastor to recruit leaders from the pulpit, then start doing that now. If you would back off of coaching leaders yourself, then write down three names right now of people you would invite to help you coach new leaders. Write them down.

2. Build a Coaching Structure Over Time.

If you have 10 groups, you don’t need 8 coaches today, but when you have 40 groups you will. Start preparing your group leaders to coach new leaders. Observe how they handle issues in their groups. Notice the ones who genuinely care. Effective coaching is built on a relationship. Who’s good at forming and maintaining relationships? You can train on skills, but you can’t make people care.

Don’t worry about your current leaders. If they have successful lead a group without a coach, then they will be great potential coaches. Don’t feel obligated to attach every leader to a coach just to fill in an organizational chart. The chart will look pretty, but the coaching will be pretty ineffective.

Give new leaders a coach. Remember, you’re headed to 4 times as many groups next year. How many coaches will you need? Start preparing them now.

3. Think Sequence, Not Series.

Any church can generate a lot of excitement over a six week series. It’s like inflating a balloon. Building up to a six week campaign, the balloon gets bigger and bigger and bigger, then it POPS! Now what? If your balloon has already popped, then you’re asking the “Now what?” question too late.

Start groups with an expectation that they will continue. In order for them to continue, they need a next step. Before you launch the first series, plan for what they will study next. If you offer the next step during the first six week study, then 80 percent or better should continue. If you offer the next step after the series has ended, you won’t do so well.

The best seasons of the year to launch groups are Fall, New Year, and Easter. But, to retain groups, you need to plan for 52 weeks, not just three 6 week series. Now, it’s not 52 weeks of meetings. There’s variety. There’s ebb and flow. Keep the groups informed on what’s next, and they will take the next step.

I would even go so far as to say if you don’t plan a next step for your groups, then abort your group launch now. Don’t get into the Ground Hog Day phenomena. Don’t connect them into groups only to watch them ungroup, then later try to regroup them. If this is what you’ve been doing, no wonder they’re turning you down now.

Launch. Next Step. Repeat. (except for Summer)

4. Recruit Leaders for 12 Months, Not Just a Few Weeks.

If you’re focused only on your next group launch, then you need to recruit leaders for your next launch. You’re playing the short game. If they won’t lead for this round, then maybe you ask them again for the next round. But, won’t you need leaders 6 months from now? Won’t you need leaders a year from now?

Years back I was recruiting a member of our church to oversee our support groups. He was a great guy who led groups well. He was also a licensed counselor, which would be perfect for coaching our support groups. I called him and invited him to help these groups. He told me he couldn’t do it. Between completing a degree and the season his family was in, he just couldn’t do it. But, he might be able to take on the role in 2 years. I put a date on the calendar.

Two years passed, then I called him. He said, “I knew you were going to call me.” The timing was better, so he said yes. He was the right person for the right position, but it was the wrong timing when I asked the first time. Rather than twist his arm, I waited for the right timing. It was certainly better than having someone lead under duress or not have time to lead at all. It was also better than having the wrong person in the role because I was running a fire drill.

Ask yourself this: Am I interested in achieving my goals, or am I committed? There’s a difference. John Assaraf says, ” “If you’re interested, you come up with stories, excuses, reasons, and circumstances about why you can’t or why you won’t. If you’re committed, those go out the window. You just do whatever it takes.”

I know that you are committed. You have given your whole life over to God to be used for His service. I understand. I have too. But, I spent so many years spinning my wheels in season after season only to find rather pathetic, incremental results. Out of that frustration was born a more impactful way of doing things. I would love to join you in your journey.

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5.5 Questions with Allen White

By Allen White

Photo by Luke Tevebaugh

Allen White is the author of Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential (releases February 1, 2017 from Hendrickson Publishers. Download the Introduction and First Chapter Here). He has worked with over 1,500 churches across North America in the last 12 years. Admittedly, interviewing one’s self is pretty odd, but I have interviewed many people sharing about their ministries and books, so why not?

Q1. What makes groups exponential?

Well, let’s start with strategies that don’t produce exponential groups. If small group pastors are focused on connecting people into groups, they will grow by addition. Prospective members must be provided with a group that they will be assigned to. If you’re doing this and your groups are growing, then you’re lucky.

Other churches focus on multiplying leaders, which usually implies dividing groups. A high quality group leader is recruited, who then mentors an apprentice, who will eventually take part of the group and start a new group. The problem I faced with this model was that my leaders weren’t able to identify apprentices for the most part. Oh, and our groups didn’t want to split.

Exponential speaks to equipping and empowering people to gather a group of their friends and do a study together. Imagine 10 people volunteering to lead, who then invite 10 of their friends to join them. Suddenly, you have 10 new groups and 110 people in groups, and all you did was give them permission, then help them. Now, 10 groups is tame. But, what if the number of groups equaled the number of people in your church? Think about the impact. That turns into some crazy math. In recent years, I’ve seen churches of 2,500 with 500 groups, and a church of 260 start 75 groups. That’s exponential.

Q2. In the first sentence of Exponential Groups, you say, “Everyone is already in a group.” How did you reach that conclusion? What if they’re not?

Think about your own life. If you made a list of your friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors, you would quickly see you are already in a group or even multiple groups. Now, if you took these groups that people are already in and gave them an easy-to-use tool that would intentionally help them grow spiritually, then you have what we typically call a “small group.”

Years ago our congregation took a health assessment. Not only did I want to see where people were growing and where people were stalling out, but I also wanted to see the impact of small groups on their growth. The assessment was based on the five biblical purposes as expressed by Rick Warren: Fellowship, Worship, Discipleship, Service, and Evangelism.

What we discovered was that everyone in our church rated themselves in this exact same order. People who were in official small groups were highest in Fellowship, but so were the people who weren’t. So, I took another survey to ask the non-small group folks who they were in fellowship with. Their responses: friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc. They weren’t joining “small groups” because they were already in groups. Then the light bulb went off — what if we gave these groups a study, drew a circle around them, and called them a “group”? It worked better than we imagined.

Now, there are people who are new to the church or new to the area, who genuinely don’t know anyone. These are the exceptions. They need a little help getting connected into a group. Help them, but don’t build your entire system on the perceived needs of the exceptions.

Q3. You talk some about launching groups through church-wide campaigns. Many churches have done this only to see groups fall apart once the study is over. How is your approach different? What’s the best way to form groups that will last?

In order for groups to last beyond a church-wide campaign, three factors are crucial. First, the way the group is formed will largely determine whether the group will continue. See question #2. Second, they need a next step. Many groups don’t continue, because we didn’t ask them to. Lastly, every leader needs a coach. There’s a lot to unpack about coaching, but unless you are supporting your leaders, they will not last for the long term.

Q4. Some pastors are very cautious about lowering the bar on leadership. What would you say to them?

Don’t lower the bar on leadership. Delay the requirements.

Have you ever bought a car from a car dealer? You don’t start with all of the requirements and paperwork necessary to purchase a car. You start with a test drive. In the same way, potential leaders need to test drive small group leadership before they’re ready to seal the deal.

What’s the requirement for a test drive? A drivers license. The question you must answer is: What is the “drivers license” for a small group test drive in your church. For some, they’ll take anyone who is breathing. For others, it’s salvation, baptism, membership, an interview, and/or something else. In chapter 3 of the book, I talk about an acceptable level of risk. You must decide what your church is willing to try.

After group leaders do the test drive and decide to move forward in leading groups, then you can gently reintroduce the requirements you delayed. The end result looks a lot like what you expect from your current groups. You just have a lot more of them.

Q5. Where do you feel churches are missing it with small groups?

I believe some churches don’t think well enough of their people and assume they can’t or won’t lead. They might fear that if “anyone” can lead there will be a lot of problems. Let me assure you — there will be problems. But, the problems I’ve faced in both leading small groups at two churches and coaching other churches amount to about 2 percent of the total leaders you recruit. But, here’s the deal, you already have these problems. Small groups don’t create problems, but they can reveal the problems you already have.

The biggest mistake churches make by far is the lack of a coaching structure. This is difficult work, but it is the backbone of a lasting small group ministry. You cannot coach more than probably 30 leaders yourself. You can never hire all of the staff you need to oversee groups. But, if according to Exodus 18, you have leaders of 10s, leaders of 50s, leaders of 100s, and leaders of 1000s, you can get there. I’ve never had a small group staff. In fact, in the last church I served, we had 6,500 people, and I had one full time assistant. My leadership team was volunteer. My coaches were volunteer. The great thing is I had the privilege of working with people I could never afford to hire. Build a coaching structure or brace for impact.

Q5.5 You are a native Kansan who spent almost 20 years in California, and has now spent the last decade in South Carolina. What teams do you root for?

Well, for college basketball, it’s KU. (Rock. Chalk. Jayhawk). For college football, it’s Clemson. For MLB, it’s the San Francisco Giants. For NBA, it’s the Golden State Warriors. For NFL, I don’t care. How’s that for a mixed bag?

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Is Your Church “All In” with Small Groups?

By Allen White 

“All In” is a pledge and commitment at Clemson University. The Tigers and the fans are “All In.” Of course, this commitment led to Clemson to become the 2017 National Champions! Go Tigers! Even if you’re not a Clemson fan, you have to admit, that was quite a game.

What does it mean for a church to be All In with small groups? A church being “All In” with small groups doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is in groups or that the church doesn’t offer anything else for connection and discipleship. Being All In speaks more to the church’s focus.

If a church’s focus is connecting people into groups, then the strategy is to recruit group leaders and assign people to groups. If the focus is developing group leaders in the traditional sense, then the strategy is typically training an apprentice and dividing the group into two groups. Both of these methods can get a church part-way in, but not All In.

All In speaks to equipping and empowering every member to lead others. While pastors would love to see all of their people serving, the reality in the church world is that we’ve made leadership, discipleship, and service far too complex. Let’s face it, by the time church members complete their training and fulfill the requirements, they have probably convinced themselves that ministry is beyond them, and they need more training! We don’t have that kind of time. We need leaders now.

Small groups are the number one way of equipping and empowering your people for service. In fact, I would even say while groups are great at connecting, discipling, and caring for people, the primary purpose of groups is leadership development. The more groups you have, the more leaders you develop.

But, how do you do this in a way that’s not watered-down or just plain scary?

Get Your Church “All In” This Easter.

By developing an easy-to-use resource, anyone in your church can gather a few friends and do a study together. How about that? I just gave you a strategy to recruit “leaders” and form “groups” without using either one of those words. You don’t need to. It works as long as your people have friends.

Now, please understand, I am a recovering control freak. For years no one led a group unless I recruited and trained them. And, no one joined a group unless I placed them in the group or approved it. It was safe, but we quickly got stuck. I couldn’t recruit enough leaders. Groups weren’t growing. Then, we tried something.

Put Your Pastor’s Teaching on the Curriculum.

We delivered our pastor’s teaching on a video and made it available to our congregation. Then, we told people if they were willing to get together with their friends, then we would help them. We saw something amazing happen.

First, our pastor was more interested in groups than ever before. He made an investment by creating the video teaching. Now, he wanted to make sure it succeeded. While I had been handpicking leaders for the seven years prior, my pastor made the invitation to this series and we doubled our groups in a day.

Oh, and here’s the second thing — our people were more interested in groups too. If people attend any church, but aren’t connected to each other, the reason they’re there, other than Jesus, is the senior pastor. They connect with the pastors’ teaching and laugh at their jokes. They like their pastors’ style and personality. When pastors offer their people exclusive content for small groups, guess what? You are giving people more of what they already like. It’s an easy sell. When you offer to help them get started, they’re All In.

Isn’t Producing Curriculum a Lot of Work?

Honestly, producing curriculum is a lot of work. But, you don’t have to do all of the work.

But, isn’t it expensive? Well, it all depends on how you go about it.

What if my pastor doesn’t have an idea for the next Purpose-Driven Life? You don’t need one. The team at One Ten Pictures already has a curriculum for you. In fact, the study guide, teaching scripts, graphic design, and template are already done. You just need to add your pastor on video at an affordable cost.

If you think this is too good to be true, then join the next webinar with Joseph Myers, author of The Search to Belong and Organic Community and Allen White, author of Exponential Groups as we explain a simple way to create an easy-to-use resource.

What would happen if everyone in your church joined together to grow spiritually and to reach your community this Easter?

Register Here via SurveyMonkey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Q2L2558

 

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4 Reasons to Fire Your Small Groups Pastor

By Allen White

Photo by Sylvain Robin

How do you know if your small groups pastor should stay or go? How do you measure success in small groups? Today, I want to give you some milestones for small groups. You might just find a new scorecard for success in your small groups.

1. You have less than 30% in groups.

It’s fairly easy to connect 30% of a church’s adults into groups (unless you have more than 70% in Sunday School). This is the low hanging fruit. Any strategy can help most churches connect at least 30% into groups. Whether you are handpicking leaders, developing apprentices and birthing groups, or launching church-wide campaigns, 30% is a pretty low threshold for connection.

In fact, most churches I’ve coached have become stuck at with 30% in groups. Few have less than 30% if they are giving small groups any effort. Determine whether your groups pastor believes your church is a cruise ship or a battle ship. Is everyone kicking back and relaxing about groups, or is it all hands on deck?

2. Your Groups Pastor spends time connecting people into groups.

Connecting individuals to groups is nearly a complete waste of time. Either the leader never contacts the prospective member, the prospect doesn’t show up, or the prospect leaves the group as soon as the study ends. Why? There is simply not enough affinity if the group only has a neighborhood or night of the week in common. This does not create lasting connection in groups.

Besides, everyone is already in a group. It’s the first sentence of my book. They have neighbors, co-workers, family members, and all kinds of people they do life with. To support unrecognized, yet existing groups is a far more effective way to grow groups. While there will be exceptions, in the wise words of Brett Eastman, “Let the exceptions be the exceptions.” Don’t develop a whole group system to accommodate for possible exceptions.

3. You don’t have a coaching structure.

Developing a coaching structure is where your church will get the most bang for its buck. If you applied the same energy to coaching that you currently exert for recruiting leaders and connecting people into groups, you will have a far more effective small group system. Leadership support and development is the key to healthy small groups.

If you don’t have a coaching structure, then you are limited to just the handful of groups a small groups pastor can manage on his or her own. While many churches, even prominent churches, have abandoned coaching, the truth is an email distribution list or another training meeting is not an effective investment into your small group leaders. Coaching is built on a relationship. Without that relationship, groups will disappear over time.

4. Your Groups Pastor isn’t begging you to create self-produced curriculum.

The best way to connect people into groups is to start new groups. The best way to start new groups is through a church-wide launch using the Senior Pastor’s teaching in the video curriculum. Whether you hire a full production crew and invest tens of thousands of dollars or shoot the video with an iPhone, your people want more of your teaching, Pastor. After all, if they aren’t connected to each other, the reason they attend your church, other than Jesus, is you. They like you. They like your teaching. They laugh at your jokes. If you give them exclusive content through small groups, you are giving more of what they already like. When you encourage them to gather their friends to do the study, that 30% connected in groups will become a small dot in the rearview mirror of your ministry.

Whether you preach in a series or preach standalone messages, there are ways to craft new sermons and even past sermons into a video-based curriculum. Some production companies even offer curriculum that’s already prepared for you — you just need to add your teaching! If your groups pastor isn’t begging for this, then you’ve missed the boat.

A Closing Thought…

There might be another reason your small groups pastor isn’t reaching his or her optimal performance — it might be you. Are you open to talking about groups from the pulpit? Have you made small groups a priority in your church? Are you willing to create curriculum? Do you see small groups as one of many ministries in the church or do you see groups are the chief way to connect, disciple, equip, train, and empower your members for ministry?

Small groups could grow your church like nothing else. What’s blocking your growth?

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5.5 Questions with Steve Merriman on Clergy Taxes

By Allen White 

Steve Merriman is the CEO and Enrolled Agent at Clergy Advantage, Loveland, CO. Steve has worked with ministers and churches for 40 years and works with over 6,000 ministers including Rick Warren, Saddleback Church; Rick Rusaw, LifeBridge Christian Church; Tim Harlow, Parkview Christian Church; and Nelson Searcy, The Journey Church. You can connect with Steve and his staff at clergyadvantage.com.

Q1. Now that everyone is in a festive mood and ready to celebrate the birth of our Savior, let’s talk about taxes. With just a few days left in the year, what can pastors do right now to reduce their taxes for 2016?

Ministers can save a considerable amount by reviewing their housing allowance designations to make sure it’s adequate. The rule of thumb is to make it higher than what you think you’re going to spend. If you spend more than the designation on housing, you’ll lose out on big deductions.

Other ways to save and reduce tax liability before the end of the year would include contributions to an HSA or a retirement plan. Probably the easiest way to save is through a charitable contribution. As long as the check or credit card date is in 2016, you get the deduction in 2016. People are allowed to give cash contributions up to 50% of their adjusted gross income. Any excess contributions can carry over for 5 additional years.

Q2. Ministers’ taxes are not like anybody else’s taxes. What makes ministers’ taxes so unique?

There are four unique tax rules for ministers’ taxes:

(1) Ministers are completely exempt from all payroll tax. The minister (not the church) is responsible for taxes. Ministers can enter into a voluntary withholding arrangement with the church, but this is matter of convenience, but not a requirement.

(2) Ministers are entitled to a housing allowance exclusion. The amount designated for your Housing Allowance can have a dramatic impact on your tax savings. As I said before, the minister wants to set the housing allowance higher than what they plan to use in case of unforeseen housing expenses or repairs. If a portion of the housing allowance is not used for housing, then that amount will be taxed as regular income.

(3) Dual employment status – Ninety percent of ministers are considered common law employees for state and Federal income tax, but are deemed as self-employed for social security tax. Minister receive a W2 which reports their income, but they have to pay self-employment tax on the income.

(4) Opting out of social security on ministry income. Ministers for religious reasons are allowed to opt out of social security. This is a decision that must be made early on in their ministry.

There are many ways pastors can receive what we call “Tax-Free Money.” For an overview of these strategies, take a look at the “Tax-Free Money for Ministers” video on the website.

Q3. What could pastors do to save taxes in 2017 that they might not be doing now?

Ministers should implement an Accountable Reimbursement Plan for ministry income. There are huge advantages. If you utilize it correctly, you get all of the ministry expenses off the tax return and it reduces your chance of audit. We offer a free 20 minute webinar on high points of an Accountable Reimbursement Plan: Click Here for More Info.

The key is in the implementation of the accountable plan. Other than automobile, the single biggest item is human expenses, including expenses of entertaining members or prospective members in the minister’s home. There is a significant key to church growth in personal entertainment, which can be reimbursed. If minister deducts these expenses on a tax return, the minister only gets a 50% deduction, but if they are reimbursed by the church then it’s a 100% savings. This strategy also reduces social security expense.

Q4. How can a minister’s salary structure give an advantage at tax time?

How the minister’s pay package salary is structured plays a big part in the overall tax savings. A Common mistake in the church is to equate “package” and “pay” as the same. They are not! The minister’s “take home” pay that is available to provide for the minister’s family is not the same as the total pay package. The tax treatment of expenses, pay and benefits is different in the church from the business world. Clergy compensation itself is quite different from employee compensation in the business world. These are “apples” to “oranges” comparatives.

A properly structured pay package will frequently be more impactful to savings taxes than how the tax return is completed.

Q5. I just received a notice from Clergy Advantage about the mileage deduction being reduced from $0.54 to $0.535 in 2017. How can church staff keep up on changes like this?

We offer articles, videos and webinars on our website: clergyadvantage.com. Ministers and church staff can also sign up for Tax Tips which are delivered by email at clergyadvantage.com

Q5.5. With a new Congress and President in 2017, what are your predictions for any changes that might affect pastors and their taxes?

Going into my 40th tax season, I’ve learned to differentiate between talk and what is actually legislated. Best to wait and see what will actually be legislated.

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GUEST POST: Michael Mack on 7 Indispensable Elements

Just as a plant needs a number of specific elements in its environment in order to grow, Christians need at least 7 vital factors or influences to grow spiritually. Each of these plays a significant part in helping people mature in your small group. Be sure you know your place as a leader with these factors (for instance, you are not the agent of life change!).

Goal: Christlikeness

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Agent: The Holy Spirit

“God the Father chose you long ago, and the Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed Jesus Christ and are cleansed by his blood” (1 Peter 1:2).

“But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23).

Method: Shepherding

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care …” (1 Peter 5:2).

Environment: Authentic Biblical Community

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).

Means: By the renewing of our minds

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13).

Instrument: Application of Scripture

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).

Time Frame: Lifetime Process

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

Question: How have you seen these factors at work in how people are growing spiritually in your group? Please scroll down and click to comment.

Small Group Leader ToolboxI wrote Small Group Leader Toolbox to provide small group leaders with the resources they need to help them and their groups be effective, grow spiritually, and live out God’s mission for them. This 54-page eBook provides scores of ideas, tips, checklists, how-to’s, assessments, planning templates, and, well … pretty much everything a leader needs to lead a dynamic small group or class.

Get your copy of this eBook now!

For more from Michael Mack, visit http://smallgroupleadership.com/

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Why Pastors Should Drive for Uber

By Allen White 

I am a pastor, and I started to drive for Uber a few weeks ago. Why? Am I destitute? No, I currently work with 28 churches from across North America, and my book, Exponential Groups, comes out in February. To be honest, I was just curious and a little bored in my office one day. Driving for Uber has led to a few things I never expected.

1. As pastors we don’t fully understand the world we are called to win.

The problem is that we get our information from…other pastors or from other ministries. What if we could have a conversation with people who were far from God? I’ve tried that in the past. The reality is as soon as you reveal to a non-Christian that you are a pastor. You might as well have said that you are the only person in the world who suffers from both Ebola and the Zika virus. They usually look down, stutter, and come up with an excuse to escape the conversation. If they don’t run away, then they awkwardly try to come up with something religious that they think you might want to hear.

But, when you’re their Uber driver, that’s a different story. People tell their drivers all sorts of things. And, if it’s a group of people, especially Millennials, then they won’t talk to you, but you can eaves drop on their conversation. You have a focus group right there in your car.

The hardest part of your job is to listen, not to lecture. You can very quickly get an earful of what’s going on in your community. Some of it might shock you. But, your place is not to judge. It’s to drive.

I have gained insights into our culture that I couldn’t get any other way. My passengers will talk about life, religion, politics, you name it. Where else could I have a conversation with an African-American lesbian about what the presidential election means to her? It was a respectful conversation. She shook my hand at the end. In my Uber learnings, it doesn’t matter what I think. I want to hear what the passengers think.

2. Some pastors become accustomed to being served. It’s time to serve.

Now, don’t get mad. Pastors serve their congregations in a variety of ways every single day. I respect that. But, there’s something about opening a door for someone, or carrying their luggage, or changing the radio to a station you don’t listen to because it pleases the customer. You gain insights into how people work for a living. (I know you work…we covered that). But, imagine if driving for Uber were your only job? Could you live on what you make? For me, it connects me to people who serve others in general, whether it’s in restaurants, department stores, or anywhere else. You see the world differently, and you tip better, even if you were a good tipper before.

3. Pastors can minister to their passengers.

Not every passenger is having a great day. Some are tired from a long day at work. Some are worn out and ready to give up. Others are in a difficult relationship or are just in a very bad season of their lives.

I have invited passengers to church. I have occasionally given practical advice. One passenger even asked me to pray with them about the situation they are facing.

I didn’t come across as Mr. Preacher. I came across as the friendly Uber driver who was just trying to help. No better than them. No worse than them. I never counted on ministering to passengers.

Now, before you put your King James on the dashboard, remember that passengers rate you. If you make them uncomfortable, then they will give you a low rating. Too many low ratings, and well, you are back on the golf course and no longer driving for Uber.

4. What’s the Next Step?

Let’s get practical. I moved to Greenville, South Carolina to serve in a large church. In fact, 1 in 10 people in the Greenville area were part of our church at the time. What if someone recognizes me? I’ve only had that actually happen one time. If it happens again, then I think we could make a joke out of it.

If you live in a metro area, you might try driving on the other side of town. If you live in a small town, you might want to spend a day in the city (in the same state). Remember, you’re not driving the church bus. You are gathering information about the kind of people in your area and what they think about things.

If you want to try driving, it’s pretty easy to get started. If you want to drive for Uber, go to Uber.com and use invite code: RUDOLPHW51UE. (And, yes, I get a bonus if you use my code). Every state has different requirements. Be sure to read through it.

If you’re not brave enough to drive…ahem…then hire an Uber to take you somewhere and ask your driver questions. Just download the Uber app on your smartphone, and your first ride is free if you use this code: rudolphw51ue. (I get a free ride too).

Okay, this post may actually be among the looniest ideas I’ve ever presented, but what I’ve gained over the last few weeks is very insightful. Christians live in a world that makes less and less sense to us. Unchurched people aren’t going to conform to our norms any longer. It’s time that we rub shoulders with them and hear what they have to say. Oh, and if they ask what you do, then just tell them, “What I do is not that interesting, let’s talk about you…”

Maybe pastors driving for Uber sounds strange. I suppose we could just go hang out in bars instead…(or not).

Because of the interest in this topic, I have started an UberPastors private Facebook group to share stories about experience with Uber: https://www.facebook.com/groups/305720126490660/

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