Posts Tagged small groups
By Allen White
Pretty curriculum boxes appear to be the new hot thing in small group ministry. Don’t get me wrong. They are nice. It looks like Christmas! This tool is a great draw for potential group leaders.
Our church did something similar back in 2004. We had overbought curriculum for the Fall series. I bought gift bags and tissue paper at the dollar store and added the curriculum. No coffee. No bookmarks. No snacks. To be honest, the tissue paper was debatable. I think we made 31 bags. Why 31? Because that’s the number of flavors at Baskin Robbins. No, we had 31 sets of curriculum left after the HOST homes were recruited.
People were invited to grab a bag, gather their friends, and start a group. Those bags went fast. In fact, we had to stop offering them after our second service. They were gone.
The dynamic of group formation had changed in our church forever. No longer were people excited about joining groups. They wanted to start their own group. (You can read more of this story in Chapter 1 of Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential. Download the chapter here).
Launching dozens to hundreds to thousands of new groups is pretty easy in the first six weeks. But, once you have the low hanging fruit, things are a little more uphill from there. Now, you could continue to offer a new box or bag of curriculum every quarter. It can also seem like you’re making progress, since your numbers are up and to the right. In many cases, however, you aren’t adding groups. You’re churning them. (Read more about Disposable Groups). If only a colorful box could make a small group ministry strong.
1. Perpetual Newbie Syndrome
One of the great benefits to the group in a box is that anyone can do it. This method will create a ton of new groups in a very short period of time. I am a big fan of momentum. Get people out of their pews and into their neighborhoods. Launch an army of new small group leaders (or whatever you want to call them.) I am with you.
Groups, however, cannot live by pretty boxes alone. In a recent conversation with a pastor I first met six years ago, I was disheartened to learn that their group launches were keeping their leaders at the level of perpetual newbies. Many of the leaders had started six years ago and took a “box” every time it was offered. But, their leadership had never grown beyond the box. Now their group involvement was declining.
There is a time to delay leadership requirements and extensive training. This helps to get people who never imagined being a leader actually leading. But, there is also a time when leaders need to grow up. Requirements need to reappear. Extensive training should be offered.
If groups are only assimilating year after year after year, they become truly handicapped. What helped the groups to start will not help the groups to grow. Where are the disciples? Where are the leaders? Perpetual newbie syndrome doesn’t get the groups there.
Diapers are great when your kids are small. They’re not so great when they’re six years old.
2. Coach in a Box.
I’ve seen many small group ministries get into trouble because there is no structure to support their growth. If you launch groups well, you will very quickly overwhelm any kind of coaching structure you have (or don’t have). This was the case when we doubled our groups in one day. Our inadequate coaching structure couldn’t handle the new growth. Quite a few groups ended up unnecessarily as casualties. We simply weren’t ready for that kind of growth.
It’s easy to assume that one small group pastor or director or a small coaching team can accommodate the wave of growth that’s ahead. This does not work. If the new leaders are not supported from when first commit to leading, many of the groups will never start. The new leaders will become discouraged or overwhelmed. With no one to turn to or only a “phone a friend,” many groups will end before they’ve begun.
We all know that leading a group is as easy as inviting a few friends and providing some refreshment. We also know that it’s not that easy. Soon we discover that a few of our friends have problems. Some have needs beyond the ability of the leader. They could call the pastor, but if the leaders of your 300 new groups (or 30 or 3,000) all call the pastor, what’s your life going to be like?
Before you distribute a single box for a new group, have a coach in place for that group. It may be all hands on deck with your established leaders. A caring person who is available to coach a new leader will determine the group’s success or failure.
3. Where’s the Next Box?
If you don’t have a next step for the new groups, then don’t take a first step. When people are invited to gather their friends and do a six week study, guess what happens at the end of the six weeks? The groups end.
But, the groups don’t have to end. The key is a new pretty box that appears in the middle of the current study. If they’re new groups, don’t give them choices of what to study next. Just tell them what to study next. If they’re experienced groups, then let them go back to normal.
If you offer a next step as described above, then get the group to decide about going forward before the current study ends. Unless they decide before the end of the study, chances are the groups won’t continue.
Tying a Bow on It
I have no argument with innovative ways to get groups started. I think a group in a box is a great incentive and attraction for people starting new groups. The issue comes when there’s not a plan behind that initial start. Some churches have been perpetuating a low bar of leadership and a quick start to groups for so long that their ministries are actually dying out. What once made them great is now handicapping them. What comes after the pretty box?
By Allen White
The timing of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma couldn’t be worse considering when many churches in the Houston area, Florida, and other places are getting ready for their Fall Small Group Launches. If your congregation and community have been drastically effected by these storms, here are some things to consider:
Is Your Topic Sensitive to Hurricane Victims?
I’ve talked to more than one pastor in the past week, who were questioning their Fall series based on the devastation of hurricanes. Both were planning a financial or generosity series this Fall. The timing couldn’t be worse for these topics. The reality is that many people have lost a lot and some have lost everything. The harder truth will come when folks apply for government assistance only to find 1 out of 5 will be declined. People will be dealing with grief, anger, and depression. A financial or generosity series will only rub salt in the wound.
One Houston area church has already called an audible. They postponed their financial series and are quickly putting together a series on hope. They realize their people will need an uplifting message at this point. How are they pulling this off? They are having a study written for them through LifeWay’s smallgroup.com, then they are shooting weekly videos by their pastors which their congregation can access from Youtube. For the folks who haven’t connected their computers with the internet, they might still need a DVD. Just duplicate single session DVDs each week. You don’t need a menu, just insert the disk and let it play. Some churches have even created series like this with a smartphone.
Are You Focusing on the Right Thing?
These storms have left a lot of people with a real mess. Now, while everyone was stuck at home because their workplaces were closed or gasoline was unavailable to get them to work, there were plenty of neighbors available to help each other deal with storm damage. Once people can go back to work, the damage won’t go away by itself. Maybe instead of small groups focusing on group meetings for the next 4-6 weeks, they should focus on group life and serving.
God speaks to us and works through us when we serve those in need. With so much need around us, maybe it’s time to put down our Bibles and pick up our tools. This doesn’t mean the group should never meet. But, for a season maybe the group should follow a different pattern. The community as well as the group will be blessed for it.
From my viewpoint in the upstate of South Carolina, we are getting the remainder of Tropical Storm Irma today. Rain is steady and winds are strong, but we’re not in crisis, even though bottled water is sold out at every store. We are safe and dry inside our homes and workplaces here. If I were sitting in Miami or Houston today, maybe my admonition would be stronger (or weaker).
Please don’t take these thoughts as gospel. You must take your senior pastor’s lead on the best way to proceed this Fall. You can share this post with them and say you found this from some know-it-all on the internet. God speaks to your pastor. He will give you the right direction. This is just food for thought.
Stop recruiting group leaders. Am I crazy?
If we stop recruiting group leaders, then where will they come from then? From within a group? Maybe. Will they just line up my door and demand to lead? Probably not. Will they just appear from outer space? Definitely not.
In our efforts to connect everyone into groups we forget one basic thing — everyone is already to group. (That’s the premise of my book, Exponential Groups). People are in groups called families or friends or neighbors or coworkers or some combination of those. If our church members would gather these groups for a Bible study, then they are group leaders. As Steve Gladen says, “Leaders have followers.”
Unfortunately these leaders don’t spontaneously appear. They need a little help. They need a little incentive. This is where our Senior Pastors comes in. If we would give the same words we might say to our Senior Pastors, we would have triple the result. How do I know that?
Well, after recruiting group leaders myself for seven years, we managed to connect 30 percent of our adults into groups. When my Senior Pastor recruited leaders, we doubled our groups, then we tripled them. I haven’t personally recruited a group leader since 2004! (And, I served a whole other church since then).
But, how do we get our Senior Pastors interested in recruiting groups? Read more here.
Often our focus in the Fall is to connect as many people in groups as possible. We do a big church wide campaign with the goal of getting a hundred percent or more connected into groups. In order to have groups we have to have leaders. In order to have groups we have to have members. So we focus all of our energy on recruiting leaders and connecting people into groups. Then after the six-week campaign is over we find that we have very little to show for it. We work so hard to connect all these people into group, only to see groups just as easily fall apart.
Stop recruiting group leaders. Spend your time and energy on something that will actually help your groups and leaders last. Namely coaches and training. If you put the same amount of effort into coaching and training as we used to put into recruiting leaders and forming groups, you will keep far more groups for the long term.
By Allen White
People typically don’t find a lot of success in promoting something they fear. They can actually be relieved when they have a poor result. There is less to be afraid of.
On pastor admitted to me, “What if I put myself out there and no one responds? I would be embarrassed.” That is definitely true. The answer is don’t invite people to something you don’t believe in. But, what do you and your church believe in?
First, if you’re a small group pastor or director, ask yourself where does your pastor want to start? If your pastor is more risk averse like I used to be, then ask for your pastor’s help to handpick solid citizens who could lead groups, then promote those groups. You won’t get as far as you would if you threw down the gauntlet to everyone. But, you will get much farther than if you went beyond where your pastor wants to go. Start where your pastor wants to start, then we will see where it goes from there. Once you have the first success under your belt, then your pastor will be open to try other things.
I’ve also seen the reverse. Sometimes the pastor wants to go full bore, but the small group pastor or director are more risk averse. While you definitely don’t want to squander the opportunity, you also have to reach a place where your fear doesn’t impede your success.
A few years ago, we were working with a very large church. This is a great church with a great history of biblical teaching and a solid group ministry, but their groups needed to catch up with their attendance.
In one teleconference, the small group team reported back that their existing group leaders were fearful of the Gather and Grow strategy. They perceived many problems from letting the uninitiated lead a group. Now, part of their concern related to the fact the experienced leaders had paid their dues in the leadership process, and now “You’re just going to let anybody in?”
I said a quick prayer during the teleconference, “God, what do I say to them? This could be dead in the water.”
After I finished listening to the concerns, these words came out of my mouth, “This isn’t a call to leadership. This is a call to obedience, because we are all called to go and make disciples.” The room was quiet. I wasn’t sure what would happen next. Maybe I killed it.
Then someone spoke up and said, “Could you repeat that?”
Suddenly, the light came on for them (and for me). The Gather and Grow strategy was the way to go. The Senior Pastor was already there, but it took his team a little more time. When it was all said and done, hundreds of people offered to gather their friends and grow together using video curriculum based on their senior pastor’s teaching.
I’ve had staff members freak out when their senior pastors have suddenly taken initiative in the staff member’s area of ministry. They’ve said things like, “Why couldn’t we plan ahead on this? We could be better prepared for the response. We could do this in a better way.” Some folks have become downright angry over their pastors meddling in their area of ministry.
If your senior pastor takes an interest in small groups out of the blue, first, thank God your pastor is interested in groups. Then, do whatever you have to do to make it work. After all, you don’t know when this opportunity may come again. Some pastors are strategic and lead with a road map. But, some pastors are more intuitive. Their leadership appears more like a lightning strike. Learn to organize yourself around those lightning strikes and make the most of it.
Excerpt from Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential by Allen White. Published by Hendrickson Publishers. Copyright (c) 2017 by Allen White Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Allen White
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.
Excerpt from Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential by Allen White. Published by Hendrickson Publishers. Copyright (c) 2017 by Allen White Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Allen White
Recently a small group pastor asked me, “Where do you stand on the Hosts versus Leaders Debate? People grow in groups, but you don’t have to know anything to be the leader??? I feel like I need to train more but no one wants to sit through training.” This are very important issues. Let me break down this question and offer a few thoughts.
The Hosts versus Leaders Debate
I don’t believe a Hosts versus Leaders Debate is necessary. It’s like a Children versus Adults Debate. At one point in our lives we are children, and then we become adults. Back in 2002 with the launch of 40 Days of Purpose, Rick Warren and the team at Saddleback Church introduced us to the term “Host.” The thought was that most people wouldn’t say they were “leaders,” so the invitation was changed to “host a group” by brewing a pot of coffee and being a “Star with your VCR.” What we discovered were a few problems, but a ton of new leaders who would have never called themselves leaders. “Host” was a great way for people to self-identify as a leader, even if they didn’t know that’s what they were doing.
A host, in turn, becomes a leader. Usually churches will “lower the bar” to allow anyone to host a group. I prefer to say “delay the requirements.” Every church must decide what the minimum requirements would be to allow someone to test drive a small group. If the hosts enjoy leading the group, then they are invited on a pathway to become official small group leaders. This is when the requirements come back into play. But, there is an important loop hole here.
Some people are content to be hosts. They don’t want to become official. Does the church require them to become official? The church could. But, the cat’s already out of the bag. The host doesn’t need the church in order to continue. They just need another video-based curriculum. At that point communication breaks down, and the hosts operate outside of the group system and coaching structure. This doesn’t need to happen, if the church is patient.
The hosts should be given a choice whether to become official or to wait for the next church-wide campaign to come around. It’s not perfect, but it may very well be more than what they were doing before.
Some leaders are children. Others are teenagers. Most become adults. But, all leaders follow that pattern.
“People grow in groups, but you don’t have to know anything to be the leader???”
Years ago I started teaching theology and practical ministry classes at a Bible institute. I was a little intimidated about teaching in my first semester. I felt I needed a better understanding of the subject. I didn’t want to appear foolish. And, I certainly didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of my class. A veteran teacher coached me, “You just have to be one week ahead of the students.”
Granted I had earned a B.A. and an M.Div. I knew the subjects. I just hadn’t taught the subjects. I held the veteran teacher’s secret dearly. I just needed to be one week ahead of my class. And, that’s exactly how I taught at the Bible institute for the next 10 years.
People grow in groups. I absolutely agree. New leaders also grow in groups. They don’t need to have a lot of training to get started. They just need to get started. As issues come up with the group, the new leader should have a coach to turn to. The new leader’s problems become teachable moments. Those lessons will stick with the leaders forever. Put an experienced leader in the life of the new leaders and most of the training will take place on-the-job.
“I feel like I need to train more but no one wants to sit through training.”
I used to feel the same way. Seminary prepared me to lead training meetings. Then, I discovered real ministry. I would carefully plan my training meetings and advertise them well in advance only to stand in an empty room questioning the call of God on my life.
Training with centralized meetings didn’t work for me. I had to stop and ask myself, “What is training?” What I discovered was that training could be a two minute conversation in the hallway or a two minute video sent out to all of the group leaders. (If you need topics and content for your training videos, check out the training section of my book, Exponential Groups, on pages 178-200). Training can be a text message or a voice mail. The best training comes in the relationships between leaders and their coaches.
There is a place for formalized training. A one-time basic training event could be held after each six week campaign to give the new leaders or hosts instruction on how to lead a group at your church. Beyond this, the leaders will gauge what training they need regardless of what small group pastors like me think they should have.
I finally reached a place where I only held two centralized training events per year. I gathered all of the group leaders each Fall to introduce them to the new curriculum and to recruit coaches from our established leaders. In the book, I refer to this as the “Sneak Peek.”
The second meeting was often a group leaders’ retreat early in the year. We would choose a place that was an hour and a half or so away. (In California, this retreat was in Monterey, so if you have that option, take it!) The leaders would pay for their lodging and some of their meals. I would budget for the speaker. This became a very popular event for our leaders. The best part was the leaders could articulate things they learned at the retreat six months after the retreat, because the training was set apart from the normal routine of life.
I appreciate honest questions like this. I don’t believe the hosts versus leaders thing needs to be an either/or. I see it more like Stage 1 and Stage 2. If people don’t respond to an invitation to lead, then an invitation to “host” might do the trick. Personally, I think the term “host” is a bit dated at this point. There are other ways to invite people to lead without using the word “leader.”
Training is not a dinosaur, but the form of centralized training might be. Someone asked me once why I thought their leaders didn’t come to their training. Having no knowledge of this person’s training, I said, “Well, they don’t come because your training is boring and irrelevant.” He was taken aback. How could I make such an accusation about his training? I told him I knew it because that’s why people didn’t come to my training meetings. The good news is there are so many ways to communicate with people these days, there are many training opportunities, we just need to update our methods.
By Allen White
I recently saw a commercial that aired during the Super Bowl. Apparently, I only watch for the game. A group is working out at a crossfit gym while anothers are running a marathon or doing a spin class. There’s a lot of energy. Matched with the challenges and the celebration is the theme from Cheers. Okay, Cheers and beer would go together. But, what do Cheers and beer have to do with crossfit? The answer is community. (You can watch the commercial below.)
Trouble Viewing? https://youtu.be/Cj4NWNWLyhk
We grow in community, not in isolation.
We need others to challenge us.
We need to celebrate our wins.
The church as a whole is quick to move on to the next assignment, but slow to celebrate progress. God is a God who enjoys a good party. Just look at the number of parties God mandated in the Old Testament: Passover (Exodus 12:1-4); Hag Hamatzot (Unleavened Bread; Exodus 12:15-20); Yom Habikkurim (First Fruits; Exodus 23:19); Shavout (Feast of Weeks; Exodus 23:16); Rosh Hashana (Trumpets; Leviticus 23:23-25); Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement; Leviticus 16:1-34); and Sukkoth (Tabernacles; Exodus 23:16). That’s a lot of parties.
Before groups move quickly to the next study, it’s time to celebrate. Whether the celebration is worship and communion or a barbecue and a baptism, it’s important to reflection on what God has done because we’ll need this reminders to face what is ahead.
Beyond studies, celebrate group life: weddings, babies, new homes, new jobs, promotions, and other good things that God gives. When we celebrate with others, there is no room for jealousy. Sometimes the church does an amazing job at weeping with those who weep, but misses it when it comes to rejoicing with those who rejoice. Out of anybody in the world, the church has so much more to celebrate!
Your church does not need to start a CrossFit gym that places decades old Christian music. But, you could certainly join a gym in town. You can find community in a wide variety of places. The key is an environment where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came…
When I started talking about writing a book on small groups, I often encountered a reaction that went like this: “Really, another small group book? What else is there to say?” Truth be told, I would have thought the exact same thing. People who are smarter and more experienced than me had written really great books. What was left to say?
Then, I began to notice some things in the church world. These weren’t hidden things, but there were certainly needs. This is why I wrote Exponential Groups.
I Saw Pastors Who Were Stuck.
Some of these pastors had tried groups and failed. I’ve been there. Others connected 30 percent of their congregations into groups, then once they had the low hanging fruit, they began to spin their wheels. I’ve also been there. Others were stuck at 50 percent, and then others were stuck at 65 percent. Quite a few had topped 100 percent of their congregation in groups for a church-wide study, but then watched their numbers slide once the series was over. That doesn’t feel very good. I’ve had that feeling too.
I remember reading about a chef (stay with me), who through all of his failures and frustrations learned to not only properly make sauces, but also to teach others to make sauces. If the trainee’s sauce didn’t turn out correctly, then the chef knew exactly where the young cook had made the mistake, because the chef had failed at every point of making the sauce himself over the years. This is how I feel about groups ministry.
I remember launching 10 groups in January 1994 and seeing them all end in December 1994. I know exactly why that happened. The same for getting stuck with only 30 percent of our adults in groups after seven years of building groups. (By the way, 30 percent is a very common place for groups to get stuck). And, I have stories for every other place listed above. What I’ve discovered is my education in the school of hard knocks as well as working through the frustration that eventually helped me find success is the most valuable thing I can give any pastor and church. It’s very gratifying to me to watch what was once my ceiling become other pastors’ floors.
I Saw Christians Who Were Comfortable.
Back when we invited people to seeker services, often we encouraged folks to “Sit back, relax, and enjoy the service.” When we eventually came around to ask these folks to serve, we discovered they had taken us up on our offer to get comfortable at church. While this isn’t true of every church and every believer, it is true of many. Comfort prevents growth — personal growth, ministry growth, and church growth.
For the most part people grow when they are going through a painful circumstance or when they take a risk. Let’s face it: we are all more motivated to pray while we’re facing a problem than when things are calm. I quickly realized that Discipleship through Suffering was not going to catch on very quickly. But, what if we challenged people to take a risk? Could they leave their comfort and try something a little risky for a short period of time? More people jumped at the opportunity than I thought possible. There is a way to grow your church and grow your people without wrecking the whole thing.
I Saw a Sleeping Giant and a World in Need.
Our guests became an audience. Audiences must be entertained or else they will find another church that is more entertaining. It’s as if the American church has retired.
Francis Chan said the American church is not “good soil,” but is really “thorny ground.” We live in an age of constant distraction. It’s an era of convenience. Even though people are busy by their own choice, what they invest their lives in typically has little to do with the Kingdom. Why?
For one, they may not know and understand the significance of God’s work. But, as Chris Hodges, pastor of Church of the Highlands, Birmingham, AL said this last week at the ARC conference, “Growth is not an option as long as Heaven and Hell are realities.” But, this leads to another problem — many Christians perceive ministry as another thing to add on to their already busy lives. They just don’t have time. But, what if ministry could be done with the friends they have during the activities they are already doing? Where’s the excuse?
Well, then they might say, “I’m not a leader. I’m not a teacher.” Give them a video-based curriculum. They don’t have to be the teacher, and you don’t have to worry about what they might teach a group of friends. The teaching came from you. If they can gather their friends for the video teaching, then they are leaders whether they give themselves that title or not.
Audiences must be entertained. But, what if we saw our church members as an army? An army must be equipped and empowered. An army must be led. What if we could awaken the sleeping giant of the American church, call them out of retirement, and give them new marching orders? What if they began to depend on God and each other instead of borrowing from their pastors’ spirituality?
If you’re willing to try something new, I wrote a book for you.