Posts Tagged exponential groups

Avoiding Ground Hog Day This Fall

By Allen White

Photo by Nicolas Fernandez

Photo by Nicolas Fernandez

Most of us know the movie starring Bill Murray as a weatherman who is sent to cover the story of a “weather forecasting rat.” Obviously, this is not his favorite assignment. This time something is different. Every day when he wakes up, it’s once again Ground Hog Day. He’s basically having the worse day of his life over and over and over again. Until he finally gets it right.

Some churches had stellar Fall launches last year, then they failed to retain as many groups as they would have liked. The plan for this Fall is another big launch without a next step. The result will be Ground Hog Day.

Other churches are carefully handpicking leaders hoping to have an incremental increase in groups this Fall. I followed this strategy for seven years and got stuck with only 30 percent of our people in groups. After six Ground Hog Days in a row, I knew something had to change.

How will your Fall launch this year be different from your Fall launch last year? Now, you could do the exact same thing you did last year only louder, more frequent, and with great intensity, and you will probably gain a few more. But, the result will be far from exponential, and it will feel like Ground Hog Day all over again. Consider these six things as you prepare for your Fall launch:

1. What topic will attract more?

In working with over 1,500 churches over the last 11 years, some topics have been real winners in connecting not only congregations, but communities into groups. Other topics, well, not so much. Let’s start with the narrow topics.

If you’re church is going with a rather mature topic like fasting, giving, evangelism, or anything by Francis Chan, you will have a limited amount of new groups starting. After all, when most of us read Francis Chan, we wonder if we’re even still Christians. There is a place for more mature topics, topics with lots of homework, and anything to do with money, but it’s not in a Fall campaign where you have the biggest possibility of connecting people into groups.

Think about felt needs. What needs do your people and your community have? How could a Fall campaign help? Topics like parenting, relationships, stress, fears, hope, peace, and similar could certainly scratch where folks itch. This does not mean you need to cater to peoples’ needs in every curriculum you promote, but if you want to draw them in for a big Fall launch, that is certainly the direction to head. In fact, you might even think about creating your own curriculum.

2. What strategy will connect more?

What has worked in the past will not continue into the future. If your people are filling out sign up cards or web forms, get out of that business ASAP. This is the most time consuming, ineffective method of forming groups known to man. You do all the work of getting them into a group only to discover that either the leader never follows up with the person, the person never shows up, or the person doesn’t stick with a group where they have nothing in common with anybody else. In fact, this practice makes me want to change the analogy from Ground Hog Day to the definition of insanity!

Now that you’re giving up your sign up cards, how do you connect people into groups. Start with the group leaders. Who do they know that would enjoy the study? Personal invitation will go a long way to form healthier, long-lasting groups. If you have a lot of new people in your church or moving into your area, then create an environment where new people can meet group leaders face to face, then sign up for a specific group. Some people want to lead a group, but don’t want strangers coming to their house. Why not have them start a group by just inviting their friends? In fact, could your people “do the study with their friends” and not even mention “groups”?

3. What new method will recruit more leaders?

Are you still handpicking leaders? How stressed are you already about Fall? Are your leaders supposed to be training an apprentice? How well is that working? Are you still recruiting “hosts”? If you’ve been recruiting hosts for the last 14 years, your people are wise to you. They know “hosts” means leader.

Now, don’t get me wrong. These have all been very effective methods of recruiting and developing leaders. But, if you are continuing to recruit dwindling amounts of leaders with these same strategies, then you must face the fact that your people have effectively said “No” to these recruiting methods. What could you offer this Fall that they might say “Yes” to?

4. Who will coach your new leaders?

Just reading that question evokes a lot of guilt for most small group coaches. I know your coaching structure is not what you imagined or is non-existent. Some of you have even deceived yourselves into thinking that staff can handle the needs of group leaders. You’re sending out emails and inviting people to meetings. How are those meetings working out?

The most important person in the life of a group leader is his or her coach. I was the sole coach for all of my leaders for a long time. Technically, it worked. Practically, it didn’t. They didn’t receive the care and support they needed. In fact, one year all of them quit. That was not a Ground Hog Day I ever wanted to repeat, so we put coaching in place before we recruited another group leader.

The main focus of any small group pastor should be on two things: coaching and curriculum. Coaches are the only way to know what’s in the head and heart of a group leader. And, of course, coaches must be accountable to you or your small group team depending on the size of your church.

5. What training tool will be more effective?

Seminary taught me I needed to train leaders in meetings. I offered meetings. Some were better attended than others. Once I stood in an empty room at about 15 minutes after the start time questioning the call of God on my life because no one had showed up for my training. Then, I had a big realization: people hate meetings.

Heading into this Fall (and attempting to avoid another Ground Hog Day), are you in the training business or the meeting business? They are not the same thing. If your training is based on centralized meetings, then you are missing a good portion of your leaders. How else can you train? I started this blog by answering my group leaders questions. Some small group pastors create a 2 minute video they email to their leaders every week. What could training look like in your church?

A while back I was talking to a pastor who had a background in corporate training. He told me, “This might sound strange considering my background, but I’ve come to realize the best training comes from the person who is proximate to the group leader when they are facing a problem.” Now, we’re back to coaching.

6. How will more groups continue into the New Year?

Creating a lot of excitement and starting a bunch of groups for a six week series is relatively easy. The test comes at the end of the six weeks. For some reason when people are invited into a six week study, they get the impression that at the end of the six weeks their group is done. I don’t know where they would get such a crazy idea.

If we don’t challenge these groups to continue, then not only will we experience Ground Hog Day every Fall, we will have Ground Hog Day at the start of every semester and every group launch. In North America, people like to stay together. This is why the apprentice model is a struggle. This is also why semester-based groups which practice what I call “fruit basket upset” at the end of the semester create a lot more work and dissatisfaction among group members.

If you give groups an opportunity to continue in the middle of your Fall series, chances are they will take you up on it. If you execute all six points of this post well, you could have 80 percent or more of your groups continue.

Ground Hog Day isn’t just for February.

What are you willing to change this Fall that will increase your result and effectiveness in forming and retaining groups? What risk are you willing to take? Would you lower the requirements for group leaders temporarily? Would you try a new strategy to form groups? Could you try your hand at developing a coaching structure and reworking your training?

This Fall could be unlike any Fall launch you’ve lead before. Isn’t it time to get out of the cycle of Ground Hog Day. If you would like to learn more, please join me for an upcoming webinar: allenwhite.org/webinars

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Why You Won’t Reach Your Goals in 2016

By Allen White missed goal

We have a little downtime this week. Well, I don’t. I’m writing a book and starting a coaching group in two weeks. There’s not much downtime for me. But, in between my busyness or your possible downtime is a little time to dream about the new year. How many groups will you launch next year? Will this be the year to create your own curriculum? Maybe this will be the year to get your coaching structure started or tuned up? But, as you set goals and make plans, you must consider that the possibilities are limited.

Immediately, we go to limitations like: “You’re right, my senior pastor isn’t on board,” or “Our church has too many competing values, so I can get people into groups,” or “I don’t have the budget like the worship department…they don’t care about groups,” or “It’s hard to recruit group leaders.” Whaa.

 

If you don’t think it’s possible, it isn’t.

 

What are you telling yourself?

If you’re saying things like, “This year I’m going to double my number of groups.” Are you imagining the possibility or the impossibility of doubling your groups? I’m not talking about visualizing things, but I am talking about what you’re thinking, what you’re praying about, and what you’re planning for.

If you want to double your groups this next year, then you need to prepare. How many coaches do you need to recruit to support your new leaders? What new strategy do you need to recruit these new group leaders? (If your previous strategy was effective, then you would have all of the leaders already. They said “No” to that invitation, so now you need to give them something to say “Yes” to.)

So, if you want to double your groups, this is what you need to think about: “Twice as many people will be connected and discipled. Twice as many people will grow spiritually by leading others. Twice as many coaches will give help and support. When I have over 1,000 people in groups, then I also need to recruit a small group team to help serve the coaches. I will need to become less involved with group leaders and more involved with leaders of leaders, or even leaders of leaders of leaders.”

What changed from the list of complaints above? The change is in your thinking, not in your circumstance.

You have the small group ministry you have envisioned.

Some of that envisioning was negative, so guess what you ended up with? The greatest limitations in your life are in your thoughts. This year take responsibility for your groups. Own it. Take responsibility for yourself. Stop playing the victim of your senior pastor, your budget, or your inadequate strategies.

I know I’m being tough on you today, because I’ve spent most of the last year being tough on myself. I had to overcome thoughts like “I have to keep working for someone else because churches won’t want to work with me on my own.” Then, I got my first client, Chip Ingram and Venture Church, and more churches have been lining up ever since. I had to overcome, “I would like to write a book, but I can’t find a publisher, and I don’t know who will read it.” Well, I started writing and put out one chapter for a free download. Over 1,000 people have read that chapter and have asked for more. And, I have a publisher now.

What changed for me was not luck. I don’t believe in luck. The change came in my own thinking. Now, going into my fourth month, my bills are paid, my kids are fed, and churches are launching ridiculous numbers of groups. I hate to think what life would be like if I hadn’t changed what I thought about and what I dreamed was possible.

Make this next year your year. If you need help, then connect with me, or Mark Howell, or Chris Surratt, and get some help and encouragement for your small group ministry. Imagine what is possible. God is ready to work in your church. Stop limiting what God can do.

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