By Allen White
People are isolated for a variety of reasons. Sometimes poor health or a disability limits their participation. Rotating shifts or even certain occupations can work against group participation. Connecting isolated folks takes some creativity, but can lead to some great results.
Some barriers are easy to remove. If a single mom can’t afford to pay for childcare, then figure out a way to cover the costs of childcare for them. In the past, I have given group leaders gift cards to the church bookstore to either purchase childcare vouchers for on-campus childcare or study guides based on the leader’s good judgment of the situation. While the church may not offer free childcare to every group, single moms are really our modern day widows and orphans (James 1:27). If your church lacks the means, then enlist volunteers to provide childcare while these moms meet.
Health problems can greatly limit small group participation. With the aging of our population and the rise of autism and other disorders, this segment of the church body is growing every day. Our son was born with some special needs. When he was little, we would feed him and put him to bed before the group started. The baby monitor was nearby, so we were always close at hand during the group meeting. While we couldn’t allow other group members to host the group in their home, this was the best solution for us to be involved.
If folks can’t get to the group, then bring the group to them. You might need to send someone early to help get their house ready. But, the extra effort to include them will mean a great deal.
Some jobs make small group participation difficult. If a business or agency runs on rotating shifts and varying days off, it’s impossible to commit to a specific day of the week for group. At New Life in California, two couples had this exact situation. They started a group with just the four of them. One week they’d meet on Tuesday. The next week they’d meet on Friday. Since there were only two rotating schedules to coordinate and fewer people involved, they could make the changes they needed to without inconveniencing others or missing meetings.
A few occupations make group life difficult. Recently a group of police officers presented the idea of starting a group specifically for first responders. One dilemma they faced was rotating shifts, so they chose two nights of the week for the group to meet. While members only went to group once per week, their shift schedules dictated which night they could go.
Police officers found some interesting reception in other groups. One couple, after trying several groups finally gave up. In the first group, someone wanted them to fix a ticket. In another group, someone wanted them to intervene for their child who had a brush with the law. These officers needed a group that would give them a level playing field, so they decided to form a group of just first responders. They don’t meet to talk shop, but they have a common understanding of life. No one is asking to get a ticket fixed.
There are many other groups of isolated folks out there. A church in Hilmar, California holds a men’s group at 4:00 am for dairy workers. They get a Bible study before they milk the cows. I had one leader start a group on a commuter train. Rather than reading the paper on the way to work, they gathered every Tuesday morning to study God’s Word. Once they started, word spread and they filled an entire section of the train. Folks who work swing shift may like a group at midnight when they get off work. Others working the graveyard shift might prefer a group at 7:00 am.
Isolated, Independent and Introverted folks don’t fit nicely into typical small groups. Rather than expecting them to get with the program and join a predetermined group, why not give them permission to create biblical community on their own terms? You will be surprised at the ideas that surface.
Read More About Connecting the Last 30 Percent:
Enlisting the Independents
Engaging the Introverts
By Allen White
Another important group in the last 30 percent are Introverts. Like Independents, Introverts don’t fit well in the system that serves the other 70 percent so well. Unlike the Independents, they aren’t going to form an unofficial group on the sly.
Introverts are not like the other 70 percent of members who have already joined groups. Granted some introverts joined a group with their spouse, and in the words of Joseph Myers, each week they endure “forced relational hell” (Read why I hated Joe’s book).
An introvert’s greatest fear is knocking on the door of a stranger’s house and meeting twelve new people. It’s overwhelming. It’s enough to make them pull the covers over their heads and call it a night. But, introverts are not anti-social.
Most introverts have good friends. The difference between an introvert and an extrovert is that introverts just need a few friends while extroverts have never met a stranger. Introverts don’t comfortably fit into the usual structure of a small group. They don’t do groups of 10-12 people. They are far more comfortable with one or two. Can three people count as a group? Jesus seemed to think so (Matthew 18:20).
But, who said that small groups should be comfortable? Shouldn’t we be challenged to grow? Shouldn’t we step out of our comfort zones? Down, pastor. Down. Pastors get up and speak before hundreds to thousands on Sundays. Introverts are back there in the corner. What works for you won’t work for them. But, how do you get introverts connected in groups?
1. Friends are the Key to Attracting Introverts.
Introverts have friends. They probably have better friends than extroverts, in that, they’ve taken time to get to know a couple of friends very well. A pastor’s invitation to join small groups probably won’t do much to motivate introverts in that direction. It will only reinforce their greatest fear. But, if their friend thinks it’s a good idea and invites them, there’s a much better chance of them going to group.
The nuance here is that introverts connect in groups by relationship, not by strategy. Don’t plan to launch groups where no one has to talk. Instead, encourage current small group members to think about the people in their life – who would enjoy or benefit from the group’s next study. A simple exercise like the Circles of Life from Lifetogether.com is a great way for them to start praying about who to invite.
You won’t connect 100 percent of your introverts this way. But, it’s a much better way than sending them into a connection event.
2. Rethink Your Small Group Model.
What is a small group? We usually come up with twelve, since Jesus had twelve disciples. But, is twelve the right number. Many small group pastors, like Saddleback’s Steve Gladen, advocate groups of eight and subgrouping when your group exceeds eight (Check out Steve’s book — Small Groups with Purpose). Then, there was the seminary class I took that defined a small group as three to 30 people. What?
Every group doesn’t need to be the exact same size. Sometimes things that happen with two or three in a group can’t happen with 18 members present. If we had a small group of only three men named Peter, James and John, would we give it the green light?
3. Start Book Clubs instead of Small Groups.
Introverts aren’t friendless folks. They have good friends. In fact, we might even call good friends a small group with purpose. The formula is simple: friends + intention = growth. We provide the intention by directing the group’s focus, usually by offering small group curriculum. If we make the study available to any person who wants to get together with a group of friends, then you have a better chance of including introverts. I’ve even announced on a Sunday, “Some of you haven’t found a group yet. You might not even like our small groups. Why get together with your friends and start your own group?” Curriculum sold like hotcakes.
A women walked up to the “Start Your Own Group” table and said, “Four of us meet together at Starbucks every Thursday morning, could we do the study together?” Absolutely! They were in a group of friends, but they weren’t in a small group. Why not help them become a small group?
4. Start Online Small Groups.
As more and more of life is pushed toward the intranet, we find ourselves in virtual family reunions and class reunions on Facebook practically on a daily basis. Technology allows us to encourage each other daily (Hebrews 3:13). Through online chat and video conference sites, it’s possible to connect online for a small group. Whether you’re represented by an avatar or your actual video, online small groups offer flexibility and allow members to meet from the comfort of their own homes.
Some object to online small groups saying that people can pretend to be someone else online and don’t have to be themselves. If you’ve been in small group ministry for very long, you understand that this behavior is not limited to online small groups. Self-disclosure is an issue in both online and off-line groups.
Years ago, Robert Schuller started a church in a drive-in movie theater because people wouldn’t attend church because they didn’t have nice clothes to wear. He figured if they stayed in their cars at the drive-in, it didn’t matter what they wore. Online small groups can also provide a level of comfort that will get introverts into the game. Besides, if the leader asks a tough question, Google is but a click away.
Introverts will join small groups. But, most likely they won’t sign up to join a group of strangers. By innovating and taking a different approach, connecting introverts into groups or helping introverts start groups will close the gap on the last 30 percent.
I am an introvert, and I am in a group. But, I’m also a small group pastor, so there’s a little pressure there. I hope that I haven’t offended any of my introverted friends. For a more thorough and insightful perspective, check out Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh.
More on Connecting the Last 30 Percent tomorrow…
Connecting the Last 30 Percent: Enlisting Independents
Including the Isolated
By Allen White
The delusion of success is that what we need next is more of what we’re already experienced. After all, if Host Homes and Turbo Groups and Apprentices and Church-wide Campaigns helped us connect the first 70 percent of our members into groups, then one last push should put us over the top. For those of us who have achieved 71 percent or more, we understand that this simply isn’t true. What connected the first 70 percent will not connect the last 30 percent – no matter how attractive the appeal.
The last 30 percent fall into one of three categories – Independent, Introverted or Isolated. These folks do not want to fit into anyone’s system. They would rather practice personal spiritual disciplines like contemplation rather than face their greatest fear – your living room. They might have a disability or a disadvantage that keeps them away. A cookie cutter approach is not the answer.
Independent people struggle with our systems. They are smart enough to know that they don’t really need one. They don’t buck the system as much as they just avoid it. There natural leaders look at things much differently than the connected 70 percent.
Our church was launching a church-wide campaign in Fall a few years ago. A long-time member called and told me that he had an unofficial small group. I’m never threatened by such an admission. Secretly, I wished every member had this news to share. He asked if his group could do the church-wide study. I told him, “Absolutely not,” and then I laughed. Then, I asked him why his group was flying under the radar.
“Well, it’s like Dean Martin used to say,” he started. (Huh?) “The difference between a drunk and an alcoholic is that drunks don’t go to all of those meetings.” (My apologies to folks in recovery. The meetings are a good thing). I told him that I only had two meetings a year. He said that might be possible.
Independent folks don’t want to fit into a system. And, they know that they don’t have to. They’re not rebellious as much as they just dance to the beat of their own drummer. They don’t want recognition. They don’t want training. They don’t want supervision. They just want to get together with friends. Sometimes they’ll discuss spiritual things. Other times they’ll go to dinner. They are a small group. They just don’t obsess over structure like most pastors do.
Independents won’t attend Host Briefings or Leadership Training. It’s not that they’re above that. It’s just against their nature. Most independents possess a leadership gift already. They are capable to lead. They just need an opportunity. So, how do you get independents involved in groups?
Give them the material with no strings attached. They know how to lead. They know how to gather a group. They just need the materials. Now, for all of the control freaks who are hyperventilating at this point — by selecting the curriculum, you have given direction to the group. Most leaders are not working hard to teach heresy or form a cult. They are devoting themselves to vacuuming their living rooms and preparing refreshments.
Starting groups for independents is as simple as putting a table in your church’s lobby with a sign that says, “Start Your Own Group.” Find out who they are and get their contact information. Give them all of the resources you would give any new leader. Give them access to a coach who can answer their questions at their request. When the six-week study ends, invite them to leadership training. They may or may not attend. That’s okay. When they need help, they will come and find you. Independents need a long, invisible leash.
Some pastors object. “Why can’t these independent folks honor the authority that God has placed over them by doing it my way?” Whoa. Calm down. That kind of thinking will keep you right at the numbers you currently have. Community is much bigger than your system or even your church.
To attract the Independents in the last 30 percent, you must be willing to take a different approach. If you start where people are comfortable, then you can lead them to other things. If you try to start where they’re uncomfortable, you’ll lead them nowhere.
Connecting the Last 30 Percent Part 2: Engaging Introverts
Including the Isolated