Posts Tagged Rick Warren

5.5 Questions with Allen White

By Allen White

Photo by Luke Tevebaugh

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

Q1. What makes groups exponential?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5.5 Questions with Steve Merriman on Clergy Taxes

By Allen White 

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

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

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

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

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

There are four unique tax rules for ministers’ taxes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4 Mistakes Senior Pastors Make with Small Groups

By Allen White Title

In my last 11 years of coaching over 1,500 churches in North America, I’ve observed that the senior pastor’s attitude and involvement in small group launches is more significant than any other factor in a church’s success. I’ve seen churches of 2,000-2,500 launch 500 small groups or more and keep those groups going forward. Another church recruited 30 percent of their adults on one Sunday to lead groups in their church. Now that wasn’t a church of 100 adults with 30 new leaders. It was a church of 4,000 with 1,200 new leaders. In all of these successes, the senior pastor was leading the charge.

Yet, many pastors have not seen the benefit and have not felt the need to focus on groups in their churches. In conversations with some of these pastors, I have discovered some mistakes in the pastor’s thinking which are holding back the momentum and impact of groups in their churches and communities.

Mistake #1: Relegating Small Groups to a Staff Member.

Most churches that are serious about small groups have already hired a small group pastor or director to oversee the groups. While the commitment to a staff position for small groups is significant, depending on a staff member to grow and maintain a high percentage of the congregation in groups is unlikely. Even the best small group folks out there typically can only maintain about 30 percent of a church’s adults in groups, unless the senior pastor takes a larger role.

Now, some senior pastors will argue that they do care about small groups, after all didn’t they hire staff members to oversee groups? Doesn’t that mean they care? Well, it does, but it doesn’t. If a senior pastor has relegated a small group pastor or director’s ministry to one of many ministries in the church, groups will not grow. If the senior pastor desires to connect the majority of the congregation into groups, then the pastor needs to get involved. While there are many dependable small group pastors out there, should the senior pastor turn the care of the entire congregation over to the small group pastor or director? Absolutely not. Would the senior pastor turn the entire weekend service over to the Worship Pastor? To connect a large percentage of the congregation into groups, the senior pastor must take the lead.

I’ve been an Associate Pastor for most of my 25 years of ministry. Once I discovered the impact my senior pastor had in inviting the congregation to lead groups, I never recruited another small group leader. That means after working seven years to connect 30 percent of our adults in groups, then watching my senior pastor recruit enough leaders to double our groups in a day, I haven’t recruited a single group leader since 2004. (I served two more years in that church, then served a whole other church since then, but I did not recruit any more leaders. My senior pastor did.)

As the senior pastor, you are the key influencer in your church. If you say the very same words your small group pastor/director would say, you will have three times the result. We’re seeing this across the country. Churches of 2,000-2,500 adults are launching 500 groups at a time. Imagine if 20-25 percent of your adults were leading groups. What would discipleship look like in your church? How would that change assimilation? What difference would it make in reaching your community? The answer is a huge difference.

Mistake #2: Using Someone Else’s Curriculum

Your members don’t need Rick Warren’s curriculum. They want your teaching.

The 40 Days of Purpose is by far the granddaddy of all church-wide campaigns. Some 30,000 or more churches went through the series with Rick Warren’s teaching on the curriculum aligned with the pastor’s sermon on the weekend. At first, it seemed the key to the campaign’s massive impact on a congregation was Rick Warren’s curriculum. What we later came to find out was the secret was not in the curriculum. The link to the senior pastor’s messages and leadership in the campaign made the results happen.

While I have nothing against Rick Warren or the 40 Days of Purpose, what I know now is that your congregation wants to be involved with what you are doing, pastor, not with what another senior pastor is doing. In fact, if your members are not already connected to each other in groups of some kind, I would venture to say the reason they attend your church other than Jesus is because of you. They like you. They like your teaching, your jokes, and your personality. When you offer your people more of what they already like — your teaching on a group curriculum — you will find greater interest and involvement in groups than ever before.

Mistake #3: Thinking Everyone Sees Small Groups Like You Do

Many pastors don’t want to be in a small group. Let’s face it. You’re busy. You have essentially a term paper due every week. You get called out at odd hours to help people. I’ve never met a lazy senior pastor. If there was one, then he got fired.

Small groups can be awkward for senior pastors. It’s risky for them and their spouses. If they talk openly about their personal struggles, where will those admissions go? Will open sharing somehow undermine their leadership in the church?

After 25 years of serving churches, I’ve come to understand that church staff, and especially senior pastors, are not normal. We are not like the rest of the congregation. We don’t focus on the things they think about. We aren’t motivated by the same things. Pastors have a unique calling on their lives that can only truly be understood by other pastors. What works for pastors is very different from what works for church members, and what works for church members is very different from what works for their pastors.

Senior pastors are surrounded by other believers on a daily basis. Every staff meeting is filled with believers. Every person they encounter in the office hallway is a believer. For the most part, the people they hang out with are believers. This is not the case with most people. They don’t have these regular interactions with other believers unless they worship with them, serve with them, and group with them.

Often pastors will feel guilty about promoting groups if they are not in a group. Here’s the deal: find something you can call “your group” and go with it. Whether it’s your foursome at golf or a pastor in a neighboring town you connect with, make that your group. You don’t have to do exactly what your members are doing, but you need to do something in community with other believers to set the example.

Mistake #4: Not Realizing the Benefit of Small Groups in Their Churches

If your church is larger than 250 people, then everybody can no longer know everybody any more. If your church is 400 or more and has two or more services, then your people can’t find the people they do know. But, the good news is everybody doesn’t need to know everyone, as long as everyone knows someone. This is where groups come in.

Much of the burden of care and support in your church could be served in groups. Imagine if the counseling appointments on your calendar disappeared because your people were caring for each other. Now, we all know that serious counseling cases would be referred to a professional counselor most likely anyway. But, those folks who need a listening ear, some encouragement, and prayer can find that in a group.

If groups are helping people grow as they study your curriculum, it may lessen the need for additional Bible studies or classes your congregation expects you to lead. Now, a word of caution here, don’t transition this too abruptly or you could have a mutiny. But, if you turn the heat up and talk for 90 minutes, your midweek Bible study will shrivel up in no time (just kidding…kind of).

Once people find their need for spiritual growth met in a group, some of the other offerings at your church will dwindle. Over time, they will disappear. The needs have changed. Imagine that day.

The pastors I know worry about a number of significant things in their church. Attendance, Spiritual Growth, Closing the Back Door, Outreach, and Finances are just a few. Research has shown that small groups meet all of these needs. In their recent book, Transformational Groups, Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger show how small groups are the solution for assimilation and spiritual growth. People in groups attend more often and serve more than people who are not in groups. And, group members also give more than other people in your congregation.

How should the senior pastor lead the groups ministry in the church? Take the charge. Create your own curriculum. Challenge your members to lead. By leveraging the weekend service to launch groups who study the pastor’s curriculum during the week, the church will grow and its people will grow. Senior Pastor, do you really think the small group pastor or director can do all of that alone?

Churches I’ve coached who’ve launched hundreds of new groups at a time were led by their senior pastor. Don’t blame your small group pastor for not doing your job. The church has only one leader. It’s time for you to step up.

I am offering a webinar for Senior Pastors on May 3-5, 2016. If you want to go big with groups in your church this Fall, you need to sign up. Don’t send a staff member. Register at allenwhite.org/webinars

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Is the Church Wide Campaign a Dinosaur?

By Allen White 13533000_s

The church wide campaign was introduced 14 years ago most famously by the 40 Days of Purpose and The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. Boy, the innovators and influencers who jumped into that one hit it big. I’ve heard stories of churches actually connecting more people into groups than they had on Easter Sunday. Those were crazy times.

There’s something great about being first. The first church to implement a new idea in a community usually reaps deep dividends. The first church in your town to introduce contemporary worship was probably looked upon with suspicion by other churches, but that church also outgrew all of their critics. Today, you can throw a rock and hit a church with contemporary worship. The same goes for seeker services, sermon note-taking sheets, or drama sketches in the service. (Okay, we gave up on drama sketches a long time ago. Not many could pull that off.)

But after all of these years, is the church-wide campaign still relevant?

1. Does Your Church Suffer from Church Wide Campaign Fatigue?

Some churches have overdone the church-wide campaign. They are aligning everything all of the time with the weekend service and making one big push after another. While the pastor will be preaching a sermon every weekend and small groups will be studying something, continuing to launch one church-wide campaign after another leads to campaign fatigue. The pastor just gets tired of promoting it, and the people get tired of hearing it.

If your church has successfully connected 30-50 percent or more of your groups using a church-wide campaign and the Host strategy, a church-wide campaign has probably lost its luster with your congregation. You’re not seeing the results you used to. While there are some exceptions, most churches can start off strong by running three church-wide campaigns in their first year, then they need to back off to one church-wide aligned series per year.

In the first year, groups need the continuity of starting with one campaign, then continuing into the next. But, once groups have made it through that first year, it’s harder to get them to align, which is okay. After all, the beauty of small groups is in the variety of things they can study, not in uniformity. There are some exceptions.

2. Who Should Continue Using Church Wide Campaigns?

Rapidly growing churches must continue running campaigns to recruit new leaders and form new groups just to keep up with the church’s dramatic growth. People who are new to the church need new groups to help them grow and find their way. Small groups are the best solution to the assimilation dilemma created in rapidly growing churches.

Churches in college towns or near military bases usually experience high turnover every year. Manna Church, Fayetteville, NC sits next to Fort Bragg. This church of 4,000 adults must replace 1,000 adults every year to maintain their current attendance. Church-wide campaigns have helped them start as many as 700 small groups at a time. What’s cool about this is the groups started at Manna Church are reassigned or deployed throughout the world. These small groups will soon become microsite churches. Churches with a revolving door like Manna’s can run church-wide campaigns from now until the cows come home.

3. Pre-Packaged Church Wide Campaigns Have Run Their Course.

Let’s face it. There is only one Rick Warren and one 40 Days of Purpose. I doubt we will ever see a phenomena like that again. While we cannot argue with the success of the second bestselling non-fiction book of all time, only part of the success of those church-wide campaigns came from the topic.

Granted a church must have a great topic to appeal to the community at large, but other factors also lead to the success of that first major church-wide campaign. Linking a small group study to the pastor’s sermon was certainly a key to success. While some might attribute connecting Rick Warren to the pastor’s sermon as the key here, I see it the other way.

Let’s face it, if people aren’t connected to each other, the reason they attend your church, other than Jesus Christ, is because of your Senior Pastor. They like his personality, jokes, and teaching. Now, don’t mention this to your worship pastor, it will break his heart. The Senior Pastor’s involvement with promoting 40 Days of Purpose and promoting small groups was the “It Factor” in the success of that campaign and any other. But, there is one more thing you can do for even more success.

4. Create Your Own Church Wide Campaign.

As I said, people like their Senior Pastors. If a church does a church-wide campaign with their pastor’s invitation for groups, they will recruit leaders and connect people into groups like never before. It’s a guaranteed home run, but it could be a grand slam home run.

In addition to their Senior Pastor’s leadership in recruiting group leaders and aligning a sermon series with a group study, if the Senior Pastor created a study with his own teaching, the church can hit the ball out of the park. Just in the last 12 months, I’ve seen churches recruit 20-25 percent of their adults to lead groups, which has put group participation well over 100 percent. By offering the pastor’s teaching on a video-based curriculum, the congregation is getting more of what they already like — their pastor’s teaching!

That might seem like a of work and a lot to figure out. I want to help you. I am putting together a six month coaching group specifically focused on creating your own curriculum and then launching the campaign in your church. You don’t need to pay someone tens of thousands of dollars to create curriculum for you. I can show you how you can do it yourself. If you would like more information, I am presenting a webinar called “Create Your Own Curriculum.” For specific times and registration: allenwhite.org/webinars or contact me at info@allenwhite.org.

Not everyone will see things this way. And, that’s okay. But, to state it honestly, not everyone is seeing the results I’ve seen in the last year. Last year, the average church I worked with launched 277 groups. This could be you (provided you have 277 people!).

For most churches, the pre-packaged campaign has gone the way of the dinosaur. If you’re still experience great success and have over 100 percent of your folks in groups, please correct me. For churches who’ve never tried a campaign, then buying one might help you make a good start. But, creating your own materials with your pastor’s teaching is the way of the future — it’s affordable, flexible, and best of all, it’s yours!

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My Interview with Doug Fields on Intentional Parenting

By Allen White Doug Fields

This is my interview with Doug Fields, the author of Intentional Parenting. Doug serves as the Executive Director of HomeWord’s Center for Youth/Family at Azusa Pacific University, co-founder of downloadyouthministry.com, and the author of more than 50 books. He previously served on staff at Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA with Rick Warren, and South Coast Community Church (now Mariners Church). Doug is currently a Teaching Pastor at Mariners Church, Irvine, CA with Kenton Beshore.

Intentional Parenting is a resource for Couples, Small Groups, or Classes based on Doug’s 10 Actions for parents as described in the video). The curriculum includes a DVD teaching video, an individual workbook, and a downloadable discussion guide. As of March 2016, we are looking for churches willing to pilot the Intentional Parenting curriculum with groups, classes, or groups of friends. Space is limited to the first 50 churches who register. For more information on the pilot: allenwhite/org/ip-pilot

Please forgive the recording. It did not come out quite as well as I had hoped, but the Doug’s content is solid. So, maybe listen to this and not watch it!

If you are interested in joining the Intentional Parenting Pilot: http://allenwhite.org/ip-pilot

If you have any questions, please contact info@allenwhite.org

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This is the Year to Create Curriculum on Your Own

By Allen White 2015-08-21 10.10.02

Video-based small group curriculum has been with us for a while now. Early innovators like Rick Warren and the team at Saddleback Church brought the local pastor into the living room. Brett went on to found Lifetogether, which has sold about 4 million units of their branded curriculum to date. Many other video-based studies have followed and have succeeded.

With all of the professionally produced video curriculum out there, why would a church want to create their own? While well-known pastors have produced some excellent studies, your pastor’s face on the screen presents some strong advantages for your congregation.

A Group Study Aligned with the Sermon Helps People Take Their Weekend Experience into the Week.

The hustle and bustle of life tends to edge out the Sunday morning sermon after a day or so. While some sermons are remembered better than others, most are long forgotten by mid-week. By providing small groups with studies based on the weekend message, the points made on Sunday can take deeper root.

By creating space in the small group to review the weekend message via a short video (no more than 10 minutes), the group has a chance to review the points, ask questions, discuss issues, and make a specific application to their lives. Giving groups the opportunity to think about the message and what it means to them causes the group members to retain more. In groups they can involve more of themselves in the teaching. Rather than simply listening and maybe taking notes, group members can wrestle with hard questions and get the encouragement and accountability they need to live out the message.

Producing Your Own Curriculum Engages the Senior Pastor’s Teaching Gift.

A senior pastor without a teaching gift is not a senior pastor for long. This is the most public and most personal role of any senior pastor. Speaking is hard work. Even the most gifted teachers spend hours gathering material, studying, collecting illustrations, and polishing their messages. Once Sunday is finished, for most pastors, the countdown clock to next week’s sermon begins. The one they worked so hard on for this week is now a thing of the past. But, it doesn’t have to be.

What if the pastor could sit down in a living room with his church members and teach them the part he couldn’t get to on Sunday morning? What if in that circle the pastor could share his heart about what the Bible passage means and what it would mean if people started obeying it? A video-based curriculum can breathe new life into a message destined for the archives. Not only will the congregation learn more, but the message will go farther through the group.

The Senior Pastor’s Involvement Elevates the Role of Groups.

For most churchgoers, the initial draw to a church is the pastor’s teaching and the music. As hard as the other church staff work in their roles, this is the simple truth. The senior pastor plays a highly significant role in the spiritual lives of his congregation.

By connecting the small group study to the weekend message, you can leverage the influence of the senior pastor in leading his people to connect in small groups. Once the pastor has created a video curriculum, his next question will be “How do we use this? How do we recruit more leaders? How do we get people into groups?” Don’t you want your senior pastor asking those questions?

What’s important to the senior pastor will be what’s important to the congregation. Bulletins, video announcements, website – none of these come close to having the #1 influencer in the church direct the congregation. When the pastor asks for people to host groups, people will host groups. When the pastor invites members to join groups, members will join groups. When E.F. Hutton talks…

I learned this lesson over a decade ago. I had spent seven years recruiting and training leaders to find only 30 percent of our congregation in groups. But, the first time our senior pastor stood up and asked for host homes, we doubled our groups in one day. I never looked back. He did all of the recruiting and leading from that point forward. I have not recruited a group leader myself since 2004, even though I have served in another church since then.

The Pastor’s Teaching on Video Curriculum Moves the Weekend Message Beyond the Church Walls.

When church members invite their friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives and others to join them for a church-produced Bible study, the senior pastor is introduced to many more people than actually attend the church on Sunday. In homes, workplaces, Starbucks and even commuter trains, the pastor’s teaching goes out to many new people.

Often new people will meet the pastor via video before they meet him in person. But, the transition from the living room to the church auditorium now is not quite as daunting. New folks feel they’ve already met the pastor through the weekly group studies. And, don’t tell the group hosts and leaders, but they’re actually doing evangelism. Shhh.

A Simple Teaching Tool Puts Group Multiplication on Steroids.

A video curriculum is easy to use. In fact, someone who has never led before simply needs to follow the instructions. The teaching on the video provides the wisdom and expertise. The questions in the book provide the pathway for a great discussion. Pushing play and reading questions is not so hard.

Think about this: every person in your church has friends. The people who are less involved in the church will actually have far more friends outside of the church. What if your church members each gathered a group of 8-10 people for a video-based study featuring your senior pastor? Could a church of 100 members reach 1,000 people? What about a church of 1,000 going after 10,000? What about a church of 13,000 reaching over 100,000? Is it possible? The Bible says all things are possible with God.

If you’re interested in creating your own curriculum this year, join me for a Live Webinar on:

Tuesday, April 5 at 2pm ET/ 11am PT

Wednesday, April 6 at 1pm ET/ 10am PT

Thursday, April 7 at 11am ET/ 8am PT

REGISTER HERE: allenwhite.org/webinars

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Small Groups are Better Than Big Churches

By Allen White waffle-house-church

Relationships are far more important than programs or processes. While churches may offer training through a baseball diamond or a growth track, the relationships in a person’s life are far more influential than any short class can be. Besides no person comes into a church exactly the same way. Some come from great homes. Others from terrible ones. Some are fairly mature. Others are very broken or haven’t admitted their brokenness. Some are self-righteous. Others are ashamed. Every person who walks through the door is different than the last one. The church “factory” lacks the consistent “raw materials,” therefore, the widgits won’t turn out to be identical once the process has been imposed on them.

We used to be a society where people were born into community, then had to discover their individuality. Now, we are a society of individuals seeking community. Big makes them feel isolated. Small is what works. This is why churches like North Point led by Andy Stanley reportedly have some 60,000 people in groups. This is why Saddleback Church founded by Rick Warren has thousands and thousands of groups for their church-wide campaigns. This is also why a church of 50 people at Dallas Baptist Church, Dallas, PA, created their own small group curriculum and connected 100 people into groups. Rock concerts are great, but then again, so are intimate dinners with a few friends.

When a church reaches 250 in attendance, you hear the congregation saying “I don’t know everybody anymore.” When the church grows to 400 or so and has multiple services, the congregation says, “I can’t find the people I know.” If the church is much bigger than that, people simply don’t know where to start. How do they get to know people? How do they connect with new Christian friends? Very soon you realize that one size does not fit all and that your groups need to catch up in a hurry.

The early church met in temple courts and house to house (Acts 5:42). In our day, the temple courts would represent the weekend worship service. And, house to house would mean house to house (or Waffle House). While there’s a place for the old country church and the mega-, giga-, tetra- church, if the church has more than 25 people, then groups should be a serious consideration.

Years ago, I was coaching a church of 42 people in Georgia. The pastor started four groups, whose membership exceeded the size of the congregation. He showed up at our training event with his volunteer small groups director. Sometimes small is too big.

When it comes to church, size does matter. The ideal size is somewhere in the range of 3-30 people meeting in a home.

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5.5 Questions with Fr. Charlie Holt

By Allen White charlie

Today’s guest is Father Charlie Holt, the Rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and School in Lake Mary, FL. He is also the President of Bible Study Media, a non-profit Christian publisher. He is an instructor with the Institute for Christian Studies and serves as a collaborative partner with Pathways to Home, a ministry aiding homeless families in Central Florida.  He and his wife, Brooke, have three children.

1. When I first met you a decade ago, your church launched a ridiculous number of groups based on your size for the 40 Days of Purpose. How did that come about? What happened?

Like many other churches, St. Peter’s participated in Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose. At the time we had about 260 people attending on a weekend. After watching the training videos by Rick Warren, our leadership team took Pastor Warren’s inspirational challenge to think exponentially. We added a “0” to our goal of having 10 small groups. So, we set a goal to have 100 small groups and 1,000 people participate. I think the truth is that we didn’t know how big of a goal we had set. We would need 50% of our member households to open up their homes and host a group!

The Lord blessed us abundantly, even though we did not reach the goal. What did happen is that 70 small groups were started with 700 participants–that is 300% of our average weekend attendance participating in the campaign! Over 65% of the people who did that campaign with us were not members of our church. We added 30 new families to our membership that year, and our operating budget grew by $100,000.

The 40 Days of Purpose taught me the evangelistic power of a small group campaign.

2. As an Episcopal priest, what is the uniqueness of launching groups in a liturgical church?

One of the great things about the liturgical church is the emphasis on alignment with the church year. We follow a seasonal approach that walks the entire congregation through the life of Christ. This means that there are certain seasons that really lend themselves to a small group emphasis. The 40-day period of Lent or the Great 50 days between Easter and Pentecost are wonderful times to call the entire church to consider the Gospel in community. A liturgical church is united by common prayer and common practices. This culture of community lends itself to church-wide focus. The challenge is that there are not many small group resources written with the liturgical church in mind.

3. Lake Mary, Florida, where you serve is a rather affluent community. How do you gain and keep your congregation’s attention on small groups with so many distractions in their lives?

This is a challenge of our day for Christianity in general. School, sports, and entertainment dominate the families’ focus and time. I believe the key first step is that I personally as a pastor have to model an alternative way of life for the people of the Lord. I need to live life in a small group so I can authentically experience the challenge and speak of it with my people.

Another strategy is to expose people to the small group concept in shorter bursts and smaller steps. Introduce people to the blessing of life lived in small group community without overwhelming them. A six-week study is a small enough commitment that a busy person could say yes. But it is long enough to break some patterns. The prayer and hope is that the blessings of life in community will outweigh the curses caused by over-commitment and over-scheduling. Always have a second step to offer for those who catch on.

4. You are the author of the Christian Life Trilogy. Why did you create this series for the Lenten, Easter, and Pentecost seasons?

The Christian Life Trilogy comes from a longing and desire to see the heart of the church renewed around the heart of God at the heart of the Christian year. As I said in an earlier answer, I have found it difficult to find solid biblical material that aligns with the patterns of the Christian liturgical calendar. Lent, Easter, and Pentecost tell the greatest story ever! We need some materials that take us through the core message of that journey with Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension purposefully, prayerfully, and reflectively. I pray that the individuals and congregations that use the Christian Life Trilogy materials will find themselves centered on the things of first importance—Jesus Christ, and Him crucified and raised from the dead. Let us die with Him, that we too may be raised to new life and filled with all of the fullness of God in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

5. Now that many churches of various sizes (including megachurches) and denominations have participated in the Christian Life Trilogy, what have you learned about launching groups in a church-wide campaign?

In the first year of its publication, the Trilogy had over 50 congregations from various denominations and contexts participate with over 4,000 participants. My observation is that the several congregations that really saw tremendous fruit were the ones that took the time to plan with prayer and intention.

The most impactful Church-wide campaigns take several months in advance of their launch to slowly, prayerfully, and methodically build a momentum toward a movement of God.  A strong lay leadership team and the support of the church council is fundamental. It takes time to effectively clear the calendar of meetings and other agenda items without alienating your key leaders. If the senior pastor and a strong leadership team are focused with singular purpose on the Gospel and do a good job casting the vision to the people of God, the Lord will bless the effort and multiply His kingdom.  God the Father loves it when His people focus on His Son!

5.5 Out of The Crucified Life, The Resurrected Life, and The Spirit-filled Life, which is your favorite?

I love the Spirit-Filled Life! It was the most fun to write and amazing to see implemented in my own congregation. I had a parishioner tell me that they thought the Crucified Life would be a tough sell. After all who really wants to pick up their cross? I think that is true. However, you can’t get to the Spirit-Filled Life until you have died with Christ. The pathway to full fellowship with God is through the Cross, Resurrection, and Holy Spirit.

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Farewell, DVD Curriculum

By Allen White taking the guesswork out of groups no dvd

The advent of DVD-based curriculum, and its predecessor VHS-based curriculum, sparked the church-wide campaign movement. All of a sudden, the person leading/hosting/facilitating/in-denial-of-leading no longer needed to feel the pressure to teach or lead. The DVD/VHS did it for them. Remember Pastor Rick Warren’s line, “Be a star with your VCR”? Those were great days.

But, now VCRs are long gone. Our family has one built into a TV, but it no longer works. The future is not bright for DVDs either. Just ask Blockbuster Video, except you can’t because they are out of business. Today, we stream video on Hulu, Netflix, On Demand, and Crackle. DVD players are being replaced by Apple TV, Roku, Fire Sticks, and Chromecast. Members of the churches we work with these days are asking if teaching videos are available online because they don’t have a DVD player any more. What do you do?

1. Create Your Own Video Content

Other than Jesus Christ, the reason people attend your church is because of your senior pastor. Now, don’t tell your worship pastor. It will break his heart.

When a senior pastor stands up and invites the congregation to do a series based on his/her curriculum, you are just giving your church more of what they already want. When the pastor invites them to gather a few friends and grow, permission has been given to get very creative with group life. There are many great reasons to create your own curriculum.

By creating your own curriculum, you own the content. You aren’t bootlegging a Christian author and publisher’s project, it belongs to you. You can do whatever you want with it. There are many low cost ways to create curriculum, you don’t need a big budget or even a professional crew. Get creative.

2. Stream Your Content Online.

By streaming curriculum online, you avoid the cost of creating a DVD menu as well as burning and packaging DVDs. Online content enables your groups to access curriculum anywhere in the world on any device. If you had told me five years ago that one day I would be streaming content primarily on my Android phone, I wouldn’t have believed you. Today, I view media on my phone more often than not.

Now your groups would need to choose a medium that best suits the size of your group. After all, 20 people can’t really gather around a phone or tablet. But, they can stream content on their televisions. Maybe you should help them with this.

Back when we were making the transition from VHS to DVD, our new series at New Life in Turlock, CA was exclusively on DVD. A few people would wonder up to the small group table and ask if they could get the video on VHS because they didn’t have a DVD player yet. I told them unfortunately that was not an option, but, then I’d smile and say, “This is your lucky day.” I reached under the table and pulled out a brand new DVD player for them. I’d bought 10 of these for $30 at Walmart just in case. Their eyes lit up. It was their lucky day! You can do the same thing with Amazon Fire Sticks, Chromecast, AppleTV or Roku boxes. If a Fire Stick costs $39 and burning and packaging a DVD is about $2.00 per unit (not to mention the cost of creating the DVD), well, you do the math.

3. Offering Higher Resolution.

As technology continues to advance, the DVD lags further and further behind. Even on our project for The Daniel Plan small group curriculum, the end result was a Standard Definition DVD. Most publisher only produce SD DVDs. Otherwise, like Disney, they would have to offer the Blue Ray combo pack which also contains an SD DVD. Most people with a flat screen TV are consuming content in HD. Some have moved on to Ultra High Definition. Now, imagine watching a Standard Definition DVD on an Ultra High Definition monitor. It’s not looking too good. Now, this is definitely a first world problem, but it is a growing problem. The church cannot afford to offer only second or third rate media to a culture who is consuming the best of the best. Poor video quality takes away from the message. Streaming video can help to resolve this issue.

4. The Advantage of Weekly Content.

When we create DVDs for churches and publishers, we have to capture all of the content for the entire project well in advance of a group launch. By streaming video, you can shoot, edit and post what you need as you need it, even if you are just one week ahead of the groups. Some churches are even shooting 6-8 minute teaching sessions between or after services on Sunday morning while the message is still fresh in the speaker’s mind. Services like MediaFusion offer great solutions for both streaming and on-demand video as well as high quality, low cost video production options.

5. Leave No Late Adopter Behind, aka Old People.

Some folks haven’t made the leap to streaming video. Some folks never will. It’s a good idea to have a few DVDs on hand for those without the ability to stream video. Make this the exception, but not the rule. One church we’re working with actually burns a small group DVD every week for this exact reason. There is no menu. They just pop it in and it plays. There is no need to exclude late adopters who are willing to participate. You should really only have to do this for another 5-6 years, then DVDs should be gone for good.

6. Embrace a Literal World of Possibilities

Streaming video has the power to reach the entire world in an instant. Once a video is posted, there are no boundaries. If you offer a downloadable discussion guide, you could be providing a great service. A few years back we experimented with an online group study sharing site similar to Sermoncentral. An unexpected outcome was receiving thank you emails from people in other parts of the world who no longer had to wait weeks to months for physical products to be delivered. They could go online and download what they needed for their group that night. Now, you can easily add world missions to your church’s discipleship ministry.

When I started into Bible college and then seminary over 30 years ago, I never imagined the role technology would play in ministry. The only available technology back then was really just radio preachers and televangelists. At one point, I was a pretty strong advocate for the separation of church and television. But now, with so many people constantly unavailable for onsite meetings, yet continually available online, it would be irresponsible to not use technology to disciple not only our church members, but also anyone else in the English-speaking world. But, why stop there?

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What If Robin Williams was in My Group?

By Allen White Robin Williams red background
We lost Robin Williams nearly a year ago. He was a beloved comedian and actor. In fact, he was so beloved that his name was one of the most searched in all of 2014 on Google. I wrote a post a few days after his death as a response to so many hateful things Christians were saying on the internet. That post was not only the most read post ever on my blog, but was also the most read post ever on Rick Warren’s pastors.com with over 1 million views. If you haven’t seen it, you can read it here.

As I conclude this series on the temperaments of group members and the potential for conflict and misunderstanding, I want us to look at the epidemic of mental illness. It’s not a temperament, but an illness that personally affects 1 in 4 adults or 61.5 million Americans (according to a 2013 report by the National Alliance of Mental Illness). Mental illness affects even more people than that including the family members, neighbors, co-workers, fellow group members, and many others in relationship with those who suffer.

So, what if Robin Williams was in your group?

1. We would have a lot of fun.

If you’ve ever seen Robin Williams on a talk show, you know he was a man of a thousand voices. He would move from one comedic rant to the next and never miss a beat. He really didn’t even need the talk show host. Robin was a one man show who only needed an audience, but it didn’t have to be a large audience.

The best man in my wedding has a brother who was the pilot of Disney’s jet. Most of his job was flying Michael Eisner, president of Disney at the time, around the country. On one flight, Robin Williams was a passenger. He was just as animated and dynamic with a few people on the plane as he ever was on any talk show.

If Robin was in my group, we’d certainly have our hands full, but we would also have a great time.

2. He would want to be “Robin” not Patch Adams or Mork from Ork.

Robin is known for so many beloved and sometimes zany characters, but like all of us, we just want to be accepted for who we are. He probably wouldn’t want us to impersonate his characters or rattle off zippy one liners. In my groups, I’ve never wanted to be regarded as “Pastor Allen.” For the group to work, I need to come to group and be “Allen.” Like all of us, he would like to be accepted as Robin, not a clown, not a showman, not our evening’s entertainment, but just himself.

3. We would learn to be more generous.

Both before but especially after his death, stories flowed about Robin William’s generosity. He required movie studios to hire a certain number of homeless people on the crew as part of his contract for a picture. So many personal stories have surfaced like buying a bike for Conan O’Brien when he was going through a rough time or giving Jessica Chastain a scholarship to attend Juilliard or tirelessly fundraising for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

Every year at Christmas Robin would visit the UCSF Children’s Hospital in San Francisco. In 2001, my son was a baby in the Intensive Care Nursery at UCSF and received a visit from Robin Williams along with all of the other children there. My wife and I missed the visit. Sam was only a month old and has no memory, but after Robin’s death, when I told him that special man had visited him when he was a baby, he was very touched.

I know of a lot of small groups who are very generous. Here in Greenville, South Carolina, the Holy Smokers from Brookwood Church cater an amazing meal for the homeless in the community. Groups have done so many things. But, I believe, Robin could show a group how to go even further.

4. The rest of us would have to remove our masks first and be patient.

The public was very shocked by the extent of Robin Williams’ depression that drove him to suicide. Suicide is a terrible decision in any life. Most of us can’t imagine the state of mind one would need to be in to feel you had no other choice, because we don’t struggle with the things he struggled with.

But, here’s the other thing, if our groups are just skimming the surface of a Bible study, we don’t really know what’s going on with anyone unless they are in enough pain to cry out for help without being shamed by the group. Participating in a small group is not a magic cure for anything. People can pretend to be okay in a group meeting just like they can pretend to have it all together in church, but that’s not okay.

If we ever expect anyone else to open up, we need to open up ourselves. We need to talk about what’s real, what’s hidden, what’s secret — these are the things with power over us. The things hidden in darkness must be exposed to the light. After all, the only thing that thrives in darkness is mold.

Let’s be honest — we’ve been in groups where a member announces a divorce and we didn’t even know there were marital problems. Or, someone files for bankruptcy and we didn’t know the extent of their struggle. There is no room for lone rangers in a group. You and I are not any better than anyone else. It’s time to let down our guard and admit that.

If we wanted Robin Williams or anyone else to open up, we would need to create the right environment. That includes showing our own vulnerability.

5. We would be out of our depth, but we would love everyone generously.

Most small groups are not equipped to deal with mental illness. From Schizophrenia to Bipolar Disorder to Depression, Substance Abuse, Autism and so much more, groups don’t know what to do or how to help. And, that’s okay.

There are doctors and medication and mental health professionals to help with mental illness. Groups are designed for belonging, acceptance, care and Bible study. Group leaders and members don’t need to become mental health experts, but they do need to show Christlike love to everyone God sends their way. While all of us can certainly learn more about mental illness, groups need to fulfill the purpose they are intended for and seek help when the needs go beyond the group’s goals.

If a group’s purpose turns to helping a single member who is struggling, then that person becomes the group’s “project,” and the group members reveal their own co-dependency. No one wants to be someone’s project. If the group is in over their heads, then they need to admit where they can help and where they can’t. There is a time to get other help.

We miss you Robin Williams. Thanks for bringing so much joy to the world. Our regret is you had to suffer so much.

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