Posts Tagged groups
Bill Donahue, Ph.D., is serves as President of the LeaderSync Group, Inc. where he provides strategic consulting and leadership development for key leaders and their teams. Previously, Bill served as the Director of Leader Development and Small Groups at the Willow Creek Association and Church.
Bill has authored over a dozen books and resources including the best-selling Leading Life-changing Small Groups and co-authored Coaching Life-Changing Leaders with Greg Bowman, and Building a Life-changing Small Group Ministry with Russ Robinson.
Q1: You’ve seen a lot come and go with group life. Tell us about your first experience living in community?
I worked in New York City upon graduation from Princeton, and one year later returned back to the greater Philadelphia area where I grew up, to work for a bank. During that time, I became a Christian and soon reconnected to others from my high school days who had become believers. A close friend of mine was in seminary I was leading a small group of people in their 20s, married and single, about 16 of us. This was my first glimpse into what a small group community could be like. We prayed, laughed, learn to share our faith together, held outreaches, studied the Bible, supported one another through life’s decisions, and tried to be Jesus to others as best we knew how. It really shaped the way I thought about church, ministry and the power of community.
Q2: How did your role at Willow come about?
I was small groups and adult education pastor a church in Dallas at the time, and I was invited to attend a Leadership Network forum for small group pastors of large churches. It was there that I met a team from Willow Creek. We attended the same forum for a couple of years together. At that point, it turns out they were looking to really expand the existing small group ministry at Willow. So they asked if I would consider joining the team. My family moved to the suburbs of Chicago in 1992 and that began my 18 year journey at Willow Creek.
Q3: What do you wish you knew sooner about small groups?
Make sure you get the heart and soul of the ministry right. Strategies and structures are absolutely necessary. But the structure must serve the spiritual formation of the people. If that doesn’t happen, it becomes all about a program and not a transformational community. Things were growing so quickly that we often got caught up in the strategic and structural aspects of ministry, sometimes neglecting the soul care of our leaders and ourselves. There’s no perfect way to do this, and everybody fights this battle. But I wish I had spent more time on the culture of a small group (values, spiritual disciplines, prayer, authenticity, learning to process life together, etc.) than the strategy to build more of them. Also, it really takes a spiritually maturing leader to have this kind of transformational community. You can never invest too much in your leaders.
Q4: What do you wish you could have avoided?
Because Willow Creek is such an event-driven culture, we sometimes thought we could get more done with our leaders at events than in personal small group mentoring and 1-on-1 mentoring. That takes time. Instead, we probably spent too much time preparing for and planning large events and gatherings for our leaders, which are great for inspiration and motivation, and broad vision clarity. But they do not develop leaders. Leadership development takes place one life, one leader, and one group at a time. There’s no getting around the right process implemented over a period of time. it truly is a long obedience in the same direction. It is neither glamorous nor glitzy. It’s just good raw disciple making and leader development.
Q5: In your previous books, we’ve walked the small group tightrope with you, experienced the seven deadly sins, and lead life-changing groups. You’ve just released The Irresistible Community with Baker Books. Why a new book at this point?
I have written a lot of books for leaders, from small group leaders all the way to group pastors and leadership teams, but I have not written a broad book to anyone who wanted to live a life of community in the way of Jesus. For decades I have taught a simple process of experience in community in the presence of Jesus: Inviting one another to the Fellowship of the Table, Performing the ministry of the Towel, and engaging in the Practice of the Truth. These three simple elements…a table, towel and the truth…form the essence of transformational community living in the name of Jesus. That’s what the book is about. It takes a close look at the Upper Room, Jesus’ relationship to his followers, and how they did life together, so that we can model it, learn from it, and practice much of the same.
Q5.5: Cowboys or Bears?
By Allen White
We see classic Promoter behavior in the Apostle Peter. Impetuous and sometimes flaky, Peter was the only one who jumped out of the boat at Jesus’ invitation to walk on water. When Jesus announced his coming death, Peter rebuked Jesus, “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” to which Jesus rebuked him right back, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:22-23). When the soldiers came to take Jesus in the Garden, Peter drew his sword and cut Malchus’ ear, which Jesus quickly healed. Then, in the temple court, before the cock crowed three times, Peter denied Jesus. Yet there was another side to Peter’s brass enthusiasm.
On the day of Pentecost, when the crowd thought the 120 in the upper room were drunk, it was Peter who stood up and explained, “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel…” (Acts 2:14-16). Peter’s off the cuff proclamation that day resulted in 3,000 people being added to their number. There was no time to prepare a sermon. There was no time to create an outline. There was only time for a disciple empowered by God’s Spirit to open his mouth and be willing to speak. This time Peter got it right.
In this series of posts, we are looking at the different personality types of group members and how they affect the dynamics of groups. Based on Vicki Barnes book, The Real You, we have identified four core types: the Producer, the Planner, the Peacekeeper, and today will will consider the Promoter.
The Promoter is the life of the party. In fact, a Promoter’s motto could be “If you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with.” Now, before you take that thought too far, what I mean is a Promoter can have a great time with family and friends, but can also have a great time standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Promoters have never met a stranger and are easy to like.
They have an idea a minute, which lends to their ADD temperament. Promoters are great starters, but poor finishers. After all, how can you take something to completion if you have an idea a minute. Before one thing is even half completed, they are chasing their next idea!
Promoters are great for adding enthusiasm to a group, rallying the troops, and recruiting new members. Promoters are not so great at staying on task, starting or ending on time, or maybe even remembering they are leading on a particular week. But, if you take a Promoter’s idea, pass it on to a Producer to execute, then add a Planner’s eye for detail with the Peacekeeper checking in with everyone, your group can be a great team.
Be selective about what you delegate to a Promoter. You will see them as flaky, and they will feel frustrated. But, put them in their sweet spot of brainstorming and encouraging, and then you’ve got something.
Read More About Why Your Group Members Might Bug You
By Allen White
When our team first met Steve Poe, Lead Pastor of Northview Church, Carmel, Indiana, Steve already had 75 percent of their 4,000 adults connected into groups. They were intrigued with what we were doing with churches and how we were developing curriculum, but did they really need us?
The answer was “Yes,” but it was a different kind of partnership from many churches we work with. Rather than starting with a blank slate and launching a ton of new small groups with a church-wide video-based series, we had to come up with a solution to help the 1,000 plus remaining adults say “yes” to groups when they had been saying “no” for a while.
Pastor Steve had the idea for creating a family series, but didn’t really have the bandwidth to write six new talks for the curriculum video. Like many pastors, Steve had years and years of great content, so our team mined his previous sermons and created scripts for the 10 minute videos we needed for the series curriculum. Once the scripts were written, they were passed back over to Steve to make sure they sounded like him and not someone else.
With scripts in hand, the church gathered a group of 30 people to participate with Steve in the teaching portion of the shoot. Now, this wasn’t just an audience to teach to, it was a group to interact with. This went even one step further, not only did the group offer feedback and their experiences on camera, the setting also provided Steve with a way to model groups for the entire church.
Once Family Matters was completed with a small group DVD and study guide, we came to the challenge of turning 1,000 “No’s” into “Yeses.” Rather than recruiting “host homes” where people were either assigned to groups or prospective members chose a group from the church’s website, the new strategy took things entirely organic in approach.
Every member of Northview Church was invited to gather a group of friends together and grow spiritually. Then, we all waited. Had we reached the saturation point? Could we break the ceiling above 75 percent in groups?
After three weeks of recruiting “hosts” for “groups” without using either of those words, 200 new groups were started in addition to the 3,000 folks who were already in groups. A new series launched shortly after Family Matters ended helped to retain the vast majority of new groups. We think any church would be happy with that.
With little time for preparation and a challenging target for groups, our team innovated on both the pre-production for the shoot and the strategy to start groups. The result was a huge win for Northview Church and Pastor Steve.
By Allen White
Group member’s personalities certainly have an impact on the dynamics of the group. For about 20 years, I have taught Vicki Barnes’ The Real You people skills training. Based on a study of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Vicki’s own research, this training gives great insights into group dynamics as well as team relationships. (If you’d like me to lead one for your team, email me: email@example.com).
Over the next few posts, I want to explore the four personality types plus one bonus post. We’ll be looking at the Producer in this post as represented by the Apostle Paul. From here we’ll examine the Planner, the Promoter, and the Peacekeeper plus the bonus.
A producer is known for being bold and drawn to action. The Apostle Paul is a great example. He was definitely a dynamic leader both for and against the church. A producer’s biggest concern is power and results. I’d say Paul certainly had results.
Paul says of himself, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” (Romans 15:20). He didn’t set out to thoroughly research and write his own version like Luke, which is very much Planner behavior. Paul wasn’t impetuous like Peter, our Promoter. He also wasn’t trying to avoid rocking the boat like we see with Abraham. Paul wanted to break new ground, fish or cut bait, poop or get off the…you get it.
In a group, the producers concern will be over pace and results. They won’t have a lot of tolerance for long winded stories or discussions that go round and round with no clear conclusion. Now, please understand that even though this describes producer behavior, it is not license for bad behavior. Producers can learn patience just like everyone else.
A producer’s motto is “get to the bottom line.” In a group, the bottom line can be reaching the end of the study, taking on a group project, making a hostile takeover of another group so your group can grow. Ok, maybe not that last one.
Producers typically have the highest self-confidence and the lowest self-esteem. Their persona will be to charge any mountain, but their minds they are only as good as their last accomplishment. When a producer has a setback, they will try to “slogan” themselves into a positive attitude: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” (Thomas Edison) or “Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.” (Og Mandino). Now there is some truth there, but as a group leader, realize that a producer with a devastating setback is feeling it more deeply than they let on. Now, this isn’t permission to start delving into their wound. They probably won’t open up and share. But, their pain can certainly be exhibited in other behaviors like escapism, over-working and certainly irritability.
Producers will help the group get things done. Sometime producers will get things done at the expense of speed bumping the relationships in the group. They will plow through a lesson to get to the finish, but may not pause long enough to discuss a heartbreak in one of the group member’s lives.
If you want something done, put the producer in charge, but maybe not in charge of the prayer time. Like all of us, producers can learn and grow to become more like Christ. Jesus is working in them, even if it feels like you might be dealing with Attila the Hun. Remember, Saul who became Paul on the road to Damascus.
Becoming a Christian doesn’t give us a personality transplant. After all Dr. Billy Graham has shown tremendous producer behavior. Remember when he was challenged about his trip to Russia years ago? Someone told him Russia wouldn’t accept the message of Christ. Dr. Graham replied, “They will when I leave.”
The ambitious producer nature of Paul’s personality accomplished much for the spread of the Gospel. What can the producers in your group help you accomplish?
For more information on my workshop, CLICK HERE.
To pick up a copy of Vicki Barnes, The REAL You: Making Sense of Relationships: CLICK HERE.
For More Posts in This Series:
The new year is an awesome time for new starts. Everyone is planning to lose weight, lose debt, learn a foreign language, and of course, grow in their faith. The new year is an ideal time to start new groups too. Why not leverage the momentum before mid-February hits and new year’s resolutions crash and burn?
The way you launch groups in the new year, however, will greatly affect your success. While this is an ideal time to form new groups, how and when you form groups will largely determine whether or not those groups last for more than one series, or in some cases, even get started. Here are some mistakes to avoid in new year’s launches.
Mistake #1: Launching in Early January.
Senior pastors love to start new sermon series after the first of the year. While the first Sunday of the year may be for vision casting or giving a “State of the Church” address, when it gets to the second Sunday, they are ready to get their preach on and dive into a new series. This is great for sermon series timing, but terrible for group timing.
If your church launches groups in early January, it forces you to form groups in December. Have you lived through a December at church? No one is thinking about January. If they were, then they wouldn’t be buying so many Christmas presents on their credit cards.
Over the years, I’ve tried to recruit and train new small group leaders in December. I’ve also found myself standing in an empty room wondering if I had missed God’s calling on my life.
People don’t think about the new year until they are actually in the new year. To effectively launch groups in January, you need to use the first three weeks to form groups, then launch in late January, or better yet, launch in early February.
Mistake #2: Failing to Leverage the Christian Holiday of Super Bowl Sunday.
I know some of you might immediately be objecting to associating something as holy and spiritual as a small group with something as hedonistic as Super Bowl Sunday. After all, promoting anything about the Super Bowl will only weaken the attendance of the Sunday night service. At least, that’s the way I grew up.
But, think about this: how would your members respond to the idea of small groups if it resembled something that looked more like their Super Bowl parties and less like what they fear a small group might be? No one calls the church to see who they should invite to a Super Bowl party. They invite their friends, co-workers, neighbors and family members. That’s the same group they should invite to their, well, group. In fact, if groups were launched after the Super Bowl, maybe the Super Bowl party could serve as an “open house” for a group and then the next week, the study could start.
You may be saying, “Well, not every Super Bowl party would be suitable to introduce people to small groups. They might overeat or something and be a bad witness.” These things could happen. But, what if a small group became more “normal” to the average Christian’s life?. That would be a huge win.
Mistake #3: Launching Groups in January without an Easter Plan.
The downfall of most church-wide campaigns, including some I’ve launched over the years, is you can experience great success for 6 weeks, then the whole thing falls off the cliff. But, it doesn’t have to. If in the middle of your post-Super Bowl series (formerly called “New Year’s series”), you announced a next step series which would run between the Christian holidays of Easter Sunday and Memorial Day, you could easily retain 80 percent of the groups that start in your Super Bowl series. By offering a next step, your groups are given a good reason to stay together.
Now, if your church is about to launch groups this Sunday, it might be time to take a timeout and regroup. Call an audible. Do what you need to do before you have to throw a Hail Mary or punt!
If you try this, you should get at least 50 percent of your people connected into groups. If you don’t, call me. We’ll figure something out!
Some of you know me because I was your pastor at one time. Some of you know me as a fellow small group pastor. Some know me as the guy who wrote an article about Robin Williams that half a million people read. And, some know me as the Vice President of Lifetogether Ministries.
Lifetogether has had an amazing 12 months. We’ve created projects The Daniel Plan curriculum for Rick Warren, Destiny and Elijah for Dr. Tony Evans, Lifegiving Relationships for the Association of Related Churches (ARC), I See a Church with Greg Surratt and Josh Surratt at Seacoast Church, What If with Jonathan Falwell at Thomas Road Baptist Church, You Have It in You by Pastor Sheryl Brady at The Potter’s House of North Dallas, Believe with Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, and In the Gap by Pastor Wilfredo (Choco) De Jesus. And, I’m forgetting a bunch of others.
I am not a video producer. I am an executive producer, which means I solve the problems and pay the bills. While it was fun developing these projects, the greater fun for me is coaching churches who are launching small groups using these curriculum titles. It’s not about numbers. For me, it’s about an ordinary believer gathering a few friends around a user friendly curriculum and experiencing God using them to serve others. That’s why I do this every day.
What do you think about video curriculum?
By Allen White
The temptation to start new groups after Easter is fairly irresistible. Easter is by far the largest Sunday of the year. Why not launch groups from the largest crowd you’ll see all year? You might not see them again until Christmas.
But, there are three group killers after Easter: June, July and August. Why start groups in the Spring only to watch them die out over the Summer? It seems they would have a better chance of survival in the Fall.
I have to admit this is exactly what I used to think about launching groups off of Easter, but I had a change of heart once I discovered ways to sustain 80 percent of those new Spring groups in the Fall. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Groups Need a Next Step.
Most new groups do not have an opinion of what they want to study next. How many times has a new group leader presented a selection of curriculum to the group only to hear, “They all look good. Why don’t you pick one.” Happens almost every time.
Of course, the other factor here is the fact you invited folks to join a group for six weeks and not for the rest of their lives. For some strange reason, once the six weeks ends, they feel like their commitment is up – because it is.
The first time we launched groups in the Spring, we gathered the new leaders mid-way through the Spring study and invited them to join our next series which began on the second Sunday of October. Then, we held our breath. It’s a long stretch from mid-May to mid-October. October held a big surprise.
When we gathered groups in the Fall to give them a sneak peek at the Fall curriculum, 80 percent of the groups who started in the Spring were right there to join the Fall study. You could have knocked me over with a feather. By giving the groups a next step, even a huge step over four months, is key to helping groups sustain. If I hadn’t experienced this first hand, honestly, I wouldn’t have believed it.
2. Very Few People Take the Entire Summer Off.
Only a handful of folks spend the entire summer at the beach. For the rest of us, chances are we will miss more weekend services in the Summer than group meetings. Before the group hits Memorial Day ask everyone to bring their calendars. Then, find six dates during the Summer when the group can meet. You might choose a six session study or you might choose one of the options below.
The six dates probably won’t fit neatly in a row, but that’s okay. Even if the group can only meet once per month, it’s a great way to stay connected to group life, even if you don’t have a formal group meeting.
3. Summer is a Great Time to Recruit New People to Your Group.
You will find more neighbors outdoors during the Summer than any other time of year. With longer days and kids out of school, why not host a neighborhood block party with your group? Roll the barbecue grill out onto your driveway to grill a few hot dogs. Rent an inflatable bounce house for the kids. Bring plenty of lawn chairs. Maybe even have a little music. Invite everybody.
People will wonder by and join in before you know it. This is a great way to meet your neighbors, and maybe even invite them to your group. By putting the party in the front yard rather than the backyard, neighbors will come and see what’s going on.
4. Get Your Group Outside.
Group discussions don’t work so well outside. The neighbors haven’t agreed to confidentiality for what they hear over the backyard fence. Outdoor Bible studies usually don’t work, but there are plenty of other reasons to go outside.
Who does your group know who needs help? Plan a service day and help a neighbor. If you’re not aware of someone in need of help, go to wydopen.com and see if there’s a project in your area. Or, volunteer a day with Habitat for Humanity or another community organization.
Experiencing life together in a different setting will add depth and richness to your group. Once everyone sees the group in action, the dynamic of your meetings and studies will become dramatically different.
Summer shouldn’t be the death of small groups. In fact, June, July and August can breathe new life into both new and existing groups. With a little planning and a lot of flexibility, Summer could become the best time of year for group life.