Posts Tagged exponential groups
By Allen White
I am not a Pantheist, regardless of what Amazon thinks.
A lady called me a couple of years ago and asked if I was “Allen White.” Naturally, I responded, “Yes.” She went on to say how much she loved my book. At the time, I hadn’t written a book. I explained my confusion. She then asked if I was the Allen White who wrote God Is All. I told her I was not, and we ended our conversation.
Now I was curious. Allen White the Theist (Monotheist, Trinitarian Allen White, to be exact) needed to see what Allen White the Pantheist was up to. I did a search and ordered a copy of God Is All, by Allen White (the Pantheist). It was a small, self-published paperback written by an Allen White from Kentucky. My family lived in Kentucky a few generations back, so who knows, maybe this was a distant cousin. If we traced the family tree back far enough, Pantheist Allen White would probably say we were also related to the tree itself.
I really didn’t think much about Pantheist Allen White until last week. I discovered that Amazon had linked my book, Exponential Groups, to the author profile of one Pantheist Allen White. Great, now my potential audience thinks I’m forming groups with people and chairs and coffee tables as members. Churches will have “home groups” because the home is also a member of the group!
My publisher snapped into action and contacted Amazon ASAP. Theist Allen White’s book was unplugged from Pantheist Allen White’s author profile. Heresy was overted.
Maybe I should have published as “Rudolph,” my first name and also the name of a certain reindeer. <Sigh>
If you’re interested in Exponentials Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential by Theist Allen White, please check out the endorsements and reviews at exponentialgroupsbook.com.
When I started talking about writing a book on small groups, I often encountered a reaction that went like this: “Really, another small group book? What else is there to say?” Truth be told, I would have thought the exact same thing. People who are smarter and more experienced than me had written really great books. What was left to say?
Then, I began to notice some things in the church world. These weren’t hidden things, but there were certainly needs. This is why I wrote Exponential Groups.
I Saw Pastors Who Were Stuck.
Some of these pastors had tried groups and failed. I’ve been there. Others connected 30 percent of their congregations into groups, then once they had the low hanging fruit, they began to spin their wheels. I’ve also been there. Others were stuck at 50 percent, and then others were stuck at 65 percent. Quite a few had topped 100 percent of their congregation in groups for a church-wide study, but then watched their numbers slide once the series was over. That doesn’t feel very good. I’ve had that feeling too.
I remember reading about a chef (stay with me), who through all of his failures and frustrations learned to not only properly make sauces, but also to teach others to make sauces. If the trainee’s sauce didn’t turn out correctly, then the chef knew exactly where the young cook had made the mistake, because the chef had failed at every point of making the sauce himself over the years. This is how I feel about groups ministry.
I remember launching 10 groups in January 1994 and seeing them all end in December 1994. I know exactly why that happened. The same for getting stuck with only 30 percent of our adults in groups after seven years of building groups. (By the way, 30 percent is a very common place for groups to get stuck). And, I have stories for every other place listed above. What I’ve discovered is my education in the school of hard knocks as well as working through the frustration that eventually helped me find success is the most valuable thing I can give any pastor and church. It’s very gratifying to me to watch what was once my ceiling become other pastors’ floors.
I Saw Christians Who Were Comfortable.
Back when we invited people to seeker services, often we encouraged folks to “Sit back, relax, and enjoy the service.” When we eventually came around to ask these folks to serve, we discovered they had taken us up on our offer to get comfortable at church. While this isn’t true of every church and every believer, it is true of many. Comfort prevents growth — personal growth, ministry growth, and church growth.
For the most part people grow when they are going through a painful circumstance or when they take a risk. Let’s face it: we are all more motivated to pray while we’re facing a problem than when things are calm. I quickly realized that Discipleship through Suffering was not going to catch on very quickly. But, what if we challenged people to take a risk? Could they leave their comfort and try something a little risky for a short period of time? More people jumped at the opportunity than I thought possible. There is a way to grow your church and grow your people without wrecking the whole thing.
I Saw a Sleeping Giant and a World in Need.
Our guests became an audience. Audiences must be entertained or else they will find another church that is more entertaining. It’s as if the American church has retired.
Francis Chan said the American church is not “good soil,” but is really “thorny ground.” We live in an age of constant distraction. It’s an era of convenience. Even though people are busy by their own choice, what they invest their lives in typically has little to do with the Kingdom. Why?
For one, they may not know and understand the significance of God’s work. But, as Chris Hodges, pastor of Church of the Highlands, Birmingham, AL said this last week at the ARC conference, “Growth is not an option as long as Heaven and Hell are realities.” But, this leads to another problem — many Christians perceive ministry as another thing to add on to their already busy lives. They just don’t have time. But, what if ministry could be done with the friends they have during the activities they are already doing? Where’s the excuse?
Well, then they might say, “I’m not a leader. I’m not a teacher.” Give them a video-based curriculum. They don’t have to be the teacher, and you don’t have to worry about what they might teach a group of friends. The teaching came from you. If they can gather their friends for the video teaching, then they are leaders whether they give themselves that title or not.
Audiences must be entertained. But, what if we saw our church members as an army? An army must be equipped and empowered. An army must be led. What if we could awaken the sleeping giant of the American church, call them out of retirement, and give them new marching orders? What if they began to depend on God and each other instead of borrowing from their pastors’ spirituality?
If you’re willing to try something new, I wrote a book for you.
7 Questions Sunday
LifeLetter Cafe: Where did the passion to author “Exponential Groups” came from?
Allen White: The passion really came from a lot of my own frustration in recruiting leaders, connecting people into groups, and getting groups to continue. I had also bought into the notion that one strategy would help our church connect everybody into a group. When that strategy failed to connect everyone, we would keep the best of what we learned, but then switch to another strategy. By continuing to change strategies we were all becoming frustrated — staff and group members. Then, it dawned on me, what if there wasn’t a way to connect everyone into groups and disciple them? There isn’t. But, whoever said you only had to use on strategy? We let one strategy connect 30% of our people into groups so they would grow spiritually. Then, we used another strategy to connect the next 30% into groups, then we used a couple more strategies to get our church to 125% of our average adult attendance in groups.
What if I could share my learnings from the school of hard knocks with other pastors and churches? What if they could help their people connect and grow without wrecking their church? What if they could form more groups than they ever dreamed of too?
A few weeks ago, a church with a weekly adult attendance of 600 people launched 147 groups. That’s why I wrote the book.
LifeLetter Cafe: Love the phrase “everyone is already in a group” – what are the upsides and downsides to this approach towards enlarging a local church’s groups ministry?
Allen White: The upside is the local church doesn’t need to work hard at launching any more groups. Everyone is already in a group. They have friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and others already in their lives. The pastor’s job now is to give these groups that people are already in an easy-to-use tool and a little training so they will do something intentional about their spiritual growth. Draw a circle around them, and boom – they are a recognized group! It’s not actually this simple, but this is the gist. Then, we focus on encouraging groups to gather, creating resources, establishing a coaching structure, and providing on-going training.
The downside is that some people are in the wrong group. Those closest to them may not be encouraging them in their relationship with Christ. They might be taking them in the opposite direction. If this is the case, then they may need to join another group, at least for a season, then when they are more established in their faith, return to the group and lead them to Christ.
LifeLetter Cafe: Can you unpack what healthy leadership development looks like in a church that chooses to move past group growth by addition or multiplication?
Allen White: Health has nothing to do with how groups are formed. Leaders can be just as unhealthy whether the church handpicks them, apprentices them, invites them to host a group, or throws caution to the wind.
Health must be monitored and nurtured. We could come up with a set of health indicators and poll our leaders annually, but we probably wouldn’t get to the root of their healthiness or unhealthiness. The only way to truly measure the health of leaders is in their relationships with coaches. While leadership development involves training, healthy and effective leadership development involves a mentor. They need someone who cares enough to encourage them at times and to exhort them at other times.
When we talk about leadership development, we usually think about training. We have this idea that the more we train, the better the leaders will be. This is not true. Training apart from serving is meaningless. Leaders don’t care about dealing with a difficult person in their group in a training meeting six months before their group starts. They care about dealing with a difficult person, when they have one in their group.
“The biggest change for me between coddling our people
and creating groups for them
versus commissioning our people and challenging them
to form their own groups was in my own thinking.”
– Allen White –
LifeLetter Cafe: What are the typical barriers to getting past the idea of a church body is not so much “an audience to be served but an army to be empowered’?
Allen White: Who likes audiences? Speakers like audiences. Performers like audiences. After all, isn’t the audience proof of the speaker’s talent? I don’t want people to give up on worship services. But, what are we leading our people toward? Are bigger auditoriums and larger audiences transforming lives? Yes and no. Yes, the Gospel is being proclaimed and people are being encouraged. But, no, in that, once we leave the doors on the auditorium we’re on our own to work all of this out, or we just become more preoccupied with the worries of life.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, churches began to create worship environments to reach their communities. We call this theattractional model, and it worked for Baby Boomers. We invited them to come in, then sit back, relax, and enjoy the service. I’ve said those words. Then, we asked them to serve, they said, “No thanks.” We had invited them to come to church and be comfortable, and they took us up on it. Today, ministry to Baby Boomers is called “Senior Adult Ministry.” While we love our seniors, Senior Adult Ministry has never been the future of the church.
The church is not as “attractive” as it used to be. The direction has changed. Instead of bringing folks to church, we, as the church, go to them – not on contrived service days in matching t-shirts – we love our neighbors as ourselves. What neighbors? The ones in our neighborhoods. We can commission the entire church to love their neighbors. We can commission the whole church to go and make disciples by gathering a group of friends and doing a Bible study.
I’m going to try to be careful here, but I am a native Kansan, who tends to be very direct. Some pastors don’t want to empower their people because they need their people to be dependent on them. They like to be liked. So here’s the Kansan coming out — some pastors are co-dependent on their congregations. They need to be needed. The fear is if I release my congregation to do the work of the ministry: (1) They might do it wrong — they’re not trained, but also (2) they might not need their pastor as much anymore.
This answer has gone long, but the biggest change for me between coddling our people and creating groups for them versus commissioning our people and challenging them to form their own groups was in my own thinking. The only thing that kept our people dependent on me instead of giving them permission to start a group were my own fears and need for control. Once I let go of that, groups took off like a rocket.
LifeLetter Cafe: Share with us a personal favorite moment in the book?
Allen White: I tell a lot of stories in the book, so there are a lot of them. My favorite moment is actually reflected in the book’s dedication. One of my group leaders named Doug had an amazing ability to manage relationships. I saw this not just in his small group, but also in his part-time work in multilevel marketing (I know…danger! Danger!). I invited him to join our coaching team. He did an amazing job. At one point, Doug said to me, “Thank you, Pastor Allen, for showing me I was the leader I never knew that I was.” That was the best compliment anyone had ever paid me.
You see Doug always thought of himself as dumb. He dropped out of high school and never graduated. Doug worked in construction his entire adult like. He drove a construction crane through San Francisco Bay Area traffic every day, set it up, did the job, then drove it back. Now, that takes more smarts than I have. But, Doug always thought he was dumb, and certainly not a leader. To recognize Doug’s innate leadership gift, to call it out, and to encourage him to success is one of the most gratifying things in my ministry. Talk about expanding your influence. It’s exponential!
LifeLetter Cafe: How important is it for churches to have multiple “on-ramps” for group launches throughout the year? What are some of the most successful models currently?
Allen White: I don’t believe churches need to offer weekly opportunities to join groups. In fact, I think 3-6 on-ramps per year is sufficient. Most people are not looking for a group during the Christmas holidays or in the Summer. The best strategy is to leverage the three best times of the year: Fall, New Year, and Easter. You might offer a few other opportunities, but for many churches three times per year is sufficient. There is a lot more thought behind this answer than what I can include here. But, if people are truly interested in groups, waiting for a few weeks is not going to change that.
LifeLetter Cafe: How strategic and necessary is it for churches to have year-round video-based curriculum options for groups that wish to push past connect-level or affinity-based orientation?
Allen White: My secret ambition is to train every believer to open up God’s Word and lead their group in a discussion which will cause them to obey all that Jesus’ commanded us (Matthew 28:20). That’s the heart of discipleship. If they need a video, then make a video. Most people don’t need a video because they are ignorant. Videos are helpful because people are busy (and pastors can keep control of what’s taught in groups — there’s my control freak coming out). I encourage churches to create a 52 week per year downloadable discussion guide that any member of the church can use to take their weekend into their week. If that comes with a short teaching video, then all the better. But, remember, some people will never lead a discussion without a video, and others will never lead a discussion with a video.
By Allen White
Exponential Groups is not so much a strategy or model as it is a focus and an attitude. Your focus determines your result. Exponential results require exponential thinking. What are you thinking about?
1. Are You Focused on Group Members?
If your focus is connecting people into groups, you are not thinking exponentially. Your groups are growing by addition. Think about it. You handpick the leaders and train them. You collect sign up cards or have a website to connect people into groups. It’s not a bad way to go, except that you work hard to start a few groups at a time or to plug people into groups only to find the leader doesn’t call the prospective members, the new members don’t show, or they do show, but they don’t stick with the group.
Now, you can arrange the connections by geography, affinity, age, hobby, and so on, but let’s face it: growth by addition is a lot of work with very few results. Just the administrative task of processing all of those sign up cards is nightmare enough. Then, you face the heartbreaking result of how ineffective all of your efforts were. It’s time to change your focus.
2. Are Your Focused on Group Leaders?
If your focus is on group leaders developing apprentices and multiplying, dividing, or splitting your groups, your focus is not exponential. Your groups might be growing by multiplication…maybe. At one point, I had encouraged, challenged, and possibly threatened my group leaders to find an apprentice for seven years. They couldn’t find one. No one in their groups looked like an apprentice. The irony was that I recruited members out of their group to train to become leaders, so we could at least continue growing by addition. Finally, one of my leaders, Carlos, trained an apprentice and launched a new group. After seven years of effort, that was the only one. Some multiplication, huh?
Now there are places where this focus is successful, but I have found this is less common. If this is what you’re doing, and it’s working for you, then you might not need to listen to me. Multiply away, but you’re still not thinking exponentially.
3. Are Your Focused on Church-wide Campaigns?
If your focus is on recruiting leaders, you still aren’t thinking exponentially. Maybe your pastor makes the cattle call for leaders or hosts to lead your next church-wide campaign. Now this thinking is more exponential than addition or multiplication, it’s on the right track, but it’s still not there.
On the positive side, church-wide campaigns delay the requirements for leadership, so there are more potential leaders. These leaders self-identify, which eliminates the task of recruiting. They can even gather their own groups. After all, followers are the requirement for leadership. As John Maxwell says, “If you think you’re a leader and have no followers, you’re only taking a walk.”
The other thing a campaign brings is a easy to use tool, like a video-based curriculum, which enables the new leader to be more friendly than scholarly, but it also maintains quality, because you have determined what is being taught in the group. The non-teacher feels good about teaching, and pastors feel good about letting them lead.
But, when the campaign ends, even if the groups continue on with another study, this growth is still more like multiplication and less like exponential. It has the potential to be exponential, but it’s not there. The goal is usually to connect 100 percent of the people into groups. But, what if this thinking is too small?
4. Are You Thinking Exponentially?
Exponential thinking is a shift in how we view our congregations. Are they sheep who need a shepherd? Can their needs only be met by a pastor? Careful: that might betray some co-dependency on your part. Is your congregation full of people who are unqualified to lead? How do you see them?
Some pastors see their congregations as an audience. The people are given worship and teaching on Sunday. They receive Bible studies throughout the week. The pastors direct the ministries they serve in. The people are cared for by the pastors: hospital visits, counseling sessions, cups of coffee. For some pastors this is a comfortable situation. Then, your church grows beyond 10 people, and you have a problem.
But, what if your congregation wasn’t an audience to be served, but an army to be empowered? What if every person in your church was empowered to gather a few people, maybe just one person, and do something intentional about their spiritual growth? What if pastors focused more on equipping people and not doing the ministry themselves? Please keep your excuses at bay for a minute and dream with me.
If everyone — church member or attender — is leading a group, who is in their groups? Good question. People who are not in your church. This doesn’t mean stealing sheep from another flock. There are plenty of people with stressful lives, marriage problems, parenting challenges, life controlling problems, and spiritual questions who could be invited to these groups. The challenge is providing resources that are biblical, yet less churchy to those who need help.
I’ve seen glimpses of this. Neighbors gathered. People with similar hobbies and interests. Whether the group is the Holy Smokers in South Carolina who make barbeque or the Holy Smokes in Colorado who light up cigars. I’ve seen commuters on the same morning train doing a Bible study and coworkers meeting at lunch.
This doesn’t need to be coerced. This doesn’t require a grand strategy. It only requires a shift in the pastor’s thinking and an opportunity for their people to lead a “group.”
Not everyone will do this all at once. In fact, I’ve never seen 100 percent of any church do anything all at once. Start with your innovators — that 4 percent who are willing to try anything. Then, tell their stories to your early adopters, the next 12 percent. Now, you have 16 percent of your church leading. If you’ve got 16 percent leading, then you’re becoming exponential already. They will influenced the next 34 percent of early mid-adopters. You’ve made it past 50 percent. The other half will take a little more time, but it’s worth it.
God wants to use your people. Whether you focus on addition or multiplication, imagine how God could use them. But, imagine if the impact of your people touching the lives a four, six, ten, or twelve people outside of your church. Imagine. That’s exponential.
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.
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.
By Allen White
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.
ORDER YOUR BOOK BEFORE MARCH 1, 2017 and RECEIVE 2 FREE LIVE GROUP COACHING SESSIONS. Click here for more information.
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.
- What is your background? (0:00)
- Who is the audience for Exponential Groups and what is the book about? (0:50)
- What has made you so passionate about expanding churches’ small groups? (1:45)
- What do you think is the biggest factor hindering churches from successful group-making? (2:47)
- 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)
- What are ways that a church can be creative in its approach to creating groups? (4:35)
- 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)
- What’s the best piece advice you’ve received about small groups? (8:02)
- What’s a sticky situation or failed plan that you have learned from? (9:15)
- What projects are you working on now or have planned for the future? (11:05)
For More Information on:
The Neighboring Church: theneighboringchurch.com
By Allen White
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?
“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?
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