Posts Tagged small groups

How “Okay” Beats “Better”

By Allen White herjavec_robert

“Nobody ever leaves ‘good enough’ for ‘potentially better'” according to Robert Herjavec of Shark Tank fame in the December 2016 issue of Fortune magazine. He makes a very good point. While Herjavec was starting his software security business, he found difficulty selling something slightly better than what people were currently using. I’m a buyer like that.

A nice young man named Storm calls me once in a while from Citrix. I’ve been their customer for many years, since I’ve found GotoMeeting to be a very stable platform for my coaching groups. Storm would like me to consider Citrix’s version of Dropbox. He’s a very nice young man. He gave a solid presentation. He checks up on me now and then. The only problem is Storm wants me to sign up for Citrix’s version of Dropbox, and I’m a longtime Dropbox user. Good enough wins over potentially better.

Now, if the Citrix’s version came bundled with GotoMeeting and gave me a discount, then maybe. But, I have Dropbox links in my emails, my articles, everywhere. It’s a lot to unlink just to link back up with a similar product. If Dropbox had a catastrophic failure, then maybe I would switch to a different platform. But, until I have a compelling reason, I have no motivation to change.

Let’s pretend you are Storm from Citrix, and I am your church member. You want me to join a small group. I “don’t have time for a group” a.k.a. “it’s not a priority in my life.” Why? I have friends already. I have a regular quiet time. I’m involved with other things at church. Now, without overselling small groups or making them mandatory (both tactics will fail), why should I join a small group? How are groups better than what I’m currently doing?

If you can answer this question, then people might abandon what they’re doing for something they perceive as better.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.

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Should Groups Take a Break During Christmas?

By Allen White

The Christmas season that starts with Thanksgiving and goes through New Year’s Day is pretty intense for Christmas-party1most of us. (Or does the season start at Halloween now?) Office parties, family gatherings, school functions, church services, shopping, shopping, shopping, cooking, cooking, cooking – boy, the list goes on. With all of this activity going on, should your group take a break? Well, a lot depends on your group. Here are a few things to think about:

1. Ask your group. While some people feel that they can barely come up for air during the holidays, others might experience a great deal of loneliness. Even though it’s a busy time, most people are still working every day and going about their daily routine. Before you decide to cancel, see what your group wants to do. If there are three or four who would like to meet, then you might consider meeting. Please note, however, that if your schedule has gone berserk, then it might be good to take a break for your own sake. But, make sure that your group is taken care of. Will someone spend Thanksgiving alone? Maybe a group member could include them in a family gathering.

2. Have a party. There is a healthy ebb and flow to small groups. Most groups can complete a study or two during the months of August through November, then will start again in January. Your group is not “more spiritual” by persisting in an inductive Bible study through the holidays. But, there is more to group that study. Having just completed a study or two in the Fall, your group has something to celebrate. Throw a party. This might even be a good time to invite prospective members and neighbors to check out the group and possibly join for your next study.

3. Serve together as a group. The holiday season offers many opportunities to serve the underprivileged in the community. Homeless shelters, soup kitchens and children’s homes have a great deal of needs, especially during the holidays. While many groups and organizations will help during the Christmas season, the reality is that these groups have needs year-round. Christmas is a great time to introduce your group to serving together. If they are interested, then plan to serve on a regular basis.

4. Give your group the next step. Some groups continue to meet during the holidays. That’s perfectly okay. Some groups decide to take a break. Some groups will follow one of the suggestions above. Whatever your group chooses to do, you will want to announce to your group when you will start again in January. They need to know that there is a next step. Announce your start date and maybe even your new study.

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What’s Next Will Determine What Lasts

By Allen White 46-next-step

If you haven’t decided what’s next for your groups, then prepare yourself for a hard landing. This is the time of the year where the celebration of new groups ends with a deafening thud, unless you’re prepared for what’s next.

For some reason when we invite people to lead a group for a six week study, they get this crazy idea that once the six weeks is over, they’re done. Where would they get an idea like this? The same is true for a semester-based groups. Where are they headed in the next semester?

You see all of this grouping, de-grouping, and regrouping is really an exercise in futility. It produces an effect I refer to as Ground Hog Day after the namesake movie starring Bill Murray. If people are already meeting together and they like each other, then we should encourage them to continue, not break up.

Now a few folks who signed up to lead for a literal six weeks will object: “This is like bait and switch.” My response is something like, “That’s because this IS bait and switch. Do you like meeting together? Then, continue. If you don’t like meeting together, then go ahead and end the group this week. Life is too short to be stuck in a bad group.” If they really can’t continue with the group, then ask if a group member could take over leading.

If your groups are still in your Fall series or semester, then introduce a next step right now. Whether the next step is an off-the-shelf curriculum you purchase, a church-wide study in the new year, or a weekly sermon discussion guide, invite your new groups, especially, to pursue one next step. Don’t offer 12 different choices to new groups. The decision you want them to make right now is whether the group will continue, not what they will study. Established groups can follow what you’re set in place for a curriculum pathway or library. Established groups need choices. New groups won’t have an opinion, so choose for them.

Before the group disbands at the end of the current series or semester, ask the group to decide about continuing. If you wait until after the study ends, then you have a much lower chance of getting the group back together for the future.

With the Christmas season upon us, have groups focus on group life rather than group meetings. The new series might not start until January, but the group can meet socially, have a Christmas party and invite prospective group members, or serve together. Then, in January, they can continue their regular pattern of meeting. If the group insists on doing a Bible study between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, then encourage it. Most groups will not take this option, but a few might.

You can avoid the disaster of Day 41. You can avoid experiencing Groundhog Day for your next series or semester. By offering a next step now, you can retain more groups, then build on what you’ve accomplished this Fall.

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Celebrating Our First Year!

By Allen White

Photo by Andor Bujdoso

Photo by Andor Bujdoso

One year ago after following a nudge from the Holy Spirit, which felt move like a shove, my wife and I formed our own coaching organization. It was a big step. After working for two churches and then two stints at Lifetogether Ministries with Brett Eastman, it was time to go out on our own. And, what a year it’s been!

Exponential Groups, my first book on small groups, will be released on February 1, 2017 from Hendrickson Publishers. Writing this book was something I just felt compelled to do, even if my mom is the only one who reads it. It’s the stories and best practices from the over 1,500 churches I’ve coached and the two churches I served on staff. Why Exponential Groups? When we recruit individual leaders, we grow by addition. When we train apprentices and “birth” new groups, we grow by multiplication. When we engage our entire congregation in the Great Commission, we grow exponentially. You can preorder Exponential Groups at Christianbook.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online outlets. Hint: The book is $5 cheaper at Christianbook.com (my publisher owns it). (Download the first chapter Here). But, this isn’t the best part.

I have the privilege of coaching some of the great churches across North American and helping them grow their groups exponentially. Here is a partial list of churches I’ve worked with in the last 12 months in various ways.

Coaching Groups — 19 Churches including:

C4 Church, Ajax, Ontario

Christ Tabernacle, Queens, NY

Discovery Church, Orlando, FL

Eastlake Church, Chula Vista, CA

Manna Church (ARC), Fayetteville, NC

Next Level Church (ARC). Ft Myers, FL

Peninsula Covenant Church, Redwood City, CA

St. Johns Lutheran Church (LCMS), Orange, CA

The Branch Church (COC), Dallas, TX

Victory Worship Church (AG), Tuscon, AZ

Ward Church (EPC), Northville, MI

Onsite Assessments

Bayside Community Church (ARC), Bradenton-Sarasota, FL

LifeBridge Christian Church (ICC), Longmont, CO

St. Matthew Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Individual Coaching

Allison Park Church (AG), Pittsburg, PA

Bethesda Pentecostal Church, St. Johns, Newfoundland

Mariners Church, Huntington Beach, CA

The Rooted Network, Mariners Church, Irvine, CA

Venture Church, Los Gatos, CA

Online Courses including:

Love of Christ Church (ARC), Bear, DE

Overlake Christian Church, Redmond, WA

Salem Lutheran Church (LCMS), Tomball, TX

The Life Church, San Angelo, TX

Speaking: Keynote, Retreats, Workshops, Conferences

Thousand Hills Church (AG), Corinth, TX (Leader Retreat)

Georgia District Council (AG), Macon, GA (Pastors’ Conference)

Video Curriculum Production

Chip Ingram and Living on the Edge (multiple projects)

Doug Fields and Intentional Parenting (Discussion Guide)

Lutheran Church of the Atonement (ECLA), Barrington, IL

Kingdom Life Church, Baltimore, MD

Wow, when I stop and look at the list, I realize it truly has been an amazing first year. I also serve churches in some low cost ways:

My Blog: allenwhite.org

An Hour with Allen

We’ve had a great first year and have seen great progress in the churches we have served. My hope in the coming year is not only to help more churches grow their small groups, but also to help more churches grow their people. In the Great Commission, Jesus charges every believer with the responsibility to “Go and make disciples…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The word we are keying in on for 2017 is “obey.” Jesus didn’t tell his disciples (including us) to “teach them…everything.” He commanded us to “teach them to obey everything.” An obedient church is a growing churches. Priorities will change. Chains will fall off. Communities will be transformed. Believes will be empowered. New leaders will come out of the woodwork. Without building another building or hiring another staff member, we can change the world.

Thanks to all of you who’ve allowed me to play in your sandbox and have taken this work seriously. You and your church will never be the same.

God bless,

Allen

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What Your Senior Pastor Wishes You Knew About Groups

By Allen White

Photo by Blended Images via 123rf.com

Photo by Blended Images via 123rf.com

Over the last 26 years, I’ve served two senior pastors and one Brett Eastman. My titles started as Minister of Christian Education, then Associate Pastor, then Executive Director, then Discipleship Pastor, and at last, Vice President. A year ago I became President of my own organization. Finally, I’m the top dog. Of course, at this point, there are no other dogs, but that’s okay. Leading from the second chair or a shared second chair with half a dozen other pastors has taught me a different style of leadership. From this vantage point, and from working with over 1,500 churches in the last 11 years, I have learned what your senior pastor wishes you knew about their stance toward small groups.

[Please note: I know there are senior pastors who are both men and women. I struggle with gender-inclusive language, so if I refer to the senior pastor with male pronouns, please forgive me.]

1. Senior pastors don’t think a lot about groups, because they hired you.

As the small group pastor, you should be the most passionate person on your team about groups. If you’re not, you might be in the wrong role. Your senior pastor does not have small groups on the brain like you do. Senior pastors don’t have to, they have folks like you. If your pastor was not in favor of groups, you would not have a job. Whisper to yourself: “My pastor must like groups, then.”

I have met many small group folks over the years who have run themselves ragged over the notion that their senior pastor just won’t get on-board with groups. “If only my senior pastor supported groups more…If only he would talk about groups more…If only he was in a group…” I’m from Kansas, so I’m just going to say it —

Your senior pastor doesn’t need to get on-board with you.

It’s his boat!

If you’re not in his boat, then guess where you are?

 

2. When small group pastors ask for “airtime” in the weekend services, you put your senior pastor in a predicament.

Now, I’m not a believer that all ministries in a church deserve equal airtime. Read more here. But, senior pastors wrestle with fairness among ministries. They don’t want to play favorites. They don’t want to be in a position where they have to prefer one ministry over another. When you ask for airtime for groups, you are fighting an uphill battle. It’s a battle you should fight, but you need to learn to be strategic about this.

First of all, how do most of the people in your church keep informed about church events? If you don’t know this, find out ASAP. In the last church I served, we had a variety of ways to communication with the congregation. Through an online survey, I discovered that two communication methods stood out over and above every other one: the weekly bulletin and email. At the time, the darling of our church communication was promotional videos that ran before the service. It didn’t take a survey to understand that less than 10% of our 2,500 seat auditorium was filled when the videos played. When the communications department offered to make a video for my small group launch, I declined saying I would prefer something in the bulletin and an email blast. They thought I was just being humble. I knew what actually worked.

Secondly, nothing beats an invitation from the senior pastor from the stage before/during/after the sermon. How do you overcome your pastor’s overarching need for fairness? Put your pastor’s teaching on the curriculum. (There are a variety of ways to do this). When your pastor makes an investment in the curriculum, you are guaranteed to have airtime for groups.

3. If your senior pastor is not in a group, there is a reason.

The experience of a pastor is abnormal in the life of the church. Pastors and church staff don’t experience church the way the members of the church do. Imagine the characters that would show up if there was an open call to join the pastor’s small group. Yikes! I wouldn’t want to be in that group (and I’m a pastor!). An open group for a senior pastor could be risky. If you pressure your senior pastor too far about getting into a group or leading a group, don’t sit around wondering why your pastor won’t get behind groups.

Every pastor is different. One pastor and his wife opened up their home and invited young couples to join their group. Another pastor met with two close friends and didn’t make an open invitation. In both cases, this was the pastor’s group. You have your own story.

Rather than pressure your senior pastor and other staff members to join a group if “they really support small groups,” help them identify the relationships in their lives that could be considered their group. Some may do a study together. Others may not. Either way, the pastor can talk about his group, regardless of the form.

4. Your senior pastor wishes you would relieve the burden instead of adding to it.

Every senior pastor is in favor of ministries that solve problems instead of those that create problems. Learn to solve your church’s problems with groups. What is your senior pastor concerned about? How could groups meet the need? I’m not saying this in the vein of “Let the youth group do it,” and now it’s “let the groups do it.” Rather, sit with your pastor to hear his passions and concerns, then design a way to connect those passions or concerns to groups.

If your church is growing steadily, the concern is for connection and assimilation. Groups can be the answer.

If your Sunday school and adult electives are declining, the concern is over discipleship. Groups can be the answer.

If your church needs more people to serve or give, well, people in groups tend to serve and give more than people not in groups. (For more information, see pages 45-46 in Transformational Groups by Eric Geiger and Ed Stetzer).

The first time we launched groups in a big way in our church in California, my pastor was passionate about The Passion of the Christ. He had already planned a sermon series. Advertising was set. When I asked if we could launch groups off of The Passion, he was fully on-board. (I jumped on his “ship.”) We even created our own homemade video curriculum. When my pastor invited our people to open their homes and do The Passion study, we doubled our groups in one day.

What is your pastor worried about?

What is your pastor passionate about?

How can groups help to relieve the burden or propel the vision?

By virtue of the senior pastor’s role, God speaks and directs the church through him. Get onboard with that vision. Your groups will thrive.

5. The simpler you can make the senior pastor’s involvement, the more they will be open to what you need.

If your pastor is willing to talk about groups in the weekend services, then script out exactly what you want them to say or create bullet points in advance. Then, wait until they need the direction. Some pastors want it ahead of time. Others want it just before the service. Do what works for your pastor rather than wishing your pastor would do what works for you.

At my last church, on the weeks my pastor offered to promote groups, I trotted up the staircase to his study, gave him the list of bullet points, walked through the points, then left him to execute the announcement. He was always spot on. Then, the next Sunday, I did the same thing. He didn’t need to come up with the invitation. I provided what he needed when he needed it, and it worked.

When I’ve created video curriculum with senior pastors, sometimes they taught on 6 out of 6 sessions. Sometimes, they’ve taught 1 of 6 with other teaching pastors filling in. Sometimes they taught from a script. Others taught with bullets. Still others just stood up and talked. We always scheduled the video shoot around the senior pastor’s schedule. If others had to wait, then they waited. Senior pastors gladly participated if they knew everything was set from them. Some would even prefer someone else to create their scripts from past sermons. As long as they knew they didn’t have to attend 10 meetings about the shoot and sit around for two hours until the crew was ready, they were in.

Your pastor has the ability to write his own scripts and create his own invitation to groups, but your pastor often does not have the time to do these things. Give your pastor something to start with. Make his job easier, and you will have wholehearted participation.

Remember, your senior pastors don’t work for you. You work for them.

You might wish that your senior pastor was more like someone else’s senior pastor. If only my senior pastor led a group, made curriculum, announced groups, and so forth. Be careful what you wish for. If you go about this the wrong way, you will be working for another senior pastor before you know it.

Work with what you have. It’s okay if your senior pastor doesn’t have small groups on the brain as long as you do. Any place where groups can intersect with the needs and passions of your senior pastor, you’ll have success.

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Your Campaign Launched, but Day 41 is Coming

By Allen White 

A lot of great things can happen during a 40 Day church-wide campaign, then comes Day 41. If you’ve just launched groups in the last few weeks, it’s time to think about what’s next.

Several years ago a small group pastor joined our coaching program. He had gone from having no small groups in his church to actually launching 233 groups for a 40 day church-wide campaign. At the end of the campaign, when it was all said and done, he ended up with three groups. What a heartbreak!

Over the years, in the laboratory of hundreds of churches across the country, we’ve learned a few things about keeping the momentum going and helping to sustain groups for the long haul.

1.       Groups Need a Next Step.

Most new groups do not have an opinion of what they want to study next. How many times has a new group leader presented a selection of curriculum to the group only to hear, “They all look good. Why don’t you pick one.” Happens almost every time.

Of course, the other issue here is the fact you invited folks to join a group for six weeks and not for the rest of their lives. For some strange reason, once the six weeks ends, they feel like their commitment is up – because it is.

We launched groups at our church in California for the first time in the Spring. Our fear wasn’t just Day 41, but also days 42-96. It was a high hurdle over the summer. We gathered the new leaders mid-way through the Spring study and invited them to join our next series which began on the second Sunday of October. Then, we held our breath. It’s a long stretch from mid-May to mid-October. October held a big surprise.

When we gathered groups in the Fall to give them a sneak peek at the Fall curriculum, 80 percent of the groups who started in the Spring were right there to join the Fall study. You could have knocked me over with a feather. By giving the groups a next step, even a huge step over four months, is key to helping groups sustain. If I hadn’t experienced this first hand, honestly, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Wendy Nolasco, Small Group Pastor at New Life Center, Bakersfield, California, found a similar result. After successfully launching 100 groups in the Spring, they gave their groups a heads up on their Fall campaign and then said a prayer. This Fall 75 of those groups are continuing into the next step Pastor Wendy gave them.

If you are in a Fall or New Year’s campaign, the next step is not quite so daunting. They don’t need to wait three months for another study. They can start a new study the following week. Once a group does two back to back six week studies, usually they are good to continue from that point forward.

2.       Give Your New Groups One Specific Next Step

If you send your new group leaders to the internet or the local bookstore, they will get lost in the plethora of selections. In fact, it will take them so long to make a decision, more than likely the group will falter before they can choose their next step.

If you started the group with a video-based curriculum, then the next step should involve a video as well. Again, if you invited folks to form groups with the idea that they didn’t have to be a Bible scholar, because the expert was on the video, they will need that strategy again. Whether the next series aligns with the Sunday sermons or not, a specific next step will take them past Day 41 and into a longer group life.

Now, you may ask, “How long can groups continue with video-based curriculum?”

Carl George put it this way, “As long as there are DVDs.”

3.       A New Study is a Great Time to Recruit New People to Your Group.

The beginning of a study is a natural time to invite new members into a group. The group could host an open house or a barbecue to invite some friends and neighbors who might be interested in joining the group. Everyone likes to start on the ground floor. A new study certainly provides that opportunity.

4.      If the Host Can’t Continue…

Well, you could go the guilt route: “If you love Jesus and want to go to Heaven…” But, I wouldn’t recommend that.

If the hosts legitimately cannot continue, they are probably not considering other possibilities for the group to continue. they think if they can’t go on, then the group can’t either. But, that’s not necessarily true.

When a host informs you around Day 24 of your current campaign that they won’t be able to continue with the group, have their coach begin to investigate whether another member of the group would like to step up and host the group. If the group has been rotating leadership during the study, someone may very easily take over leadership of the group so the group can continue.

Oh, and how do you get your hosts to state their intentions around Day 24 or so? You ask them. I’ve used both a mid-campaign survey as well as a mid-campaign host huddle to determine who is interested in continuing and who isn’t. Before I walk into the huddle meeting, I like to know what to expect. Often I will send the mid-campaign survey first. It serves as what John Maxwell calls the “meeting before the meeting.” Then, when you walk into the room, you know who plans to continue and who needs to be given some options for their group to continue.

All in all, Day 41 is just the beginning of group life. With the right encouragement and next steps, groups who started to only complete a six week study, can find themselves enjoying quality group life for many studies to come.

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Help, My Groups are STUCK at 30 Percent!

By Allen White
Stuck
If you have managed to connect 30 percent of your adults in small groups, then congratulations are in order! You are among the top one half of one percent of all churches in America! Go ahead and pat yourself on the back! You deserve it!

Now that you’ve been congratulated, let’s get to work. Quite a few things could contribute to your state of stuckness. Here are the biggest factors in small groups getting stuck.

Stop Handpicking Leaders

If you are still personally recruiting every leader, you have completely maxed out this method of starting groups. When our groups got stuck at New Life in northern California, we had 30 percent in groups. I had handpicked each leader over the course of seven years. I had asked the same question for seven years: “Would you like to become a small group leader?” And, for seven years, many people turned me down.

Now, if I had 100 years to catch up with the connection needs of our growing congregation, then I would have been in good shape. The problem is that well before we reached the 100 year mark I would be dead along with most of the people who needed to be connected into groups. While I thank God for the groups I had, the recruitment strategy had to change in order to recruit more leaders faster. We changed it and doubled our groups in one day.

Consider an Alignment Series

One of the fastest ways to propel your groups forward and get out of your stuckness is an alignment series where the senior pastor’s weekend messages are aligned with the small group study. You can either purchase a curriculum like My Near Death Experiment  or Transformed, or you can create your own curriculum. Either will work. The key is to tie what’s happening in the small groups with the weekend message and particularly tie the small group study to the senior pastor.

Only Your Senior Pastor Recruits New Small Group Leaders

The first time my senior pastor stood up in a weekend service and invited our people to host groups, we doubled our groups in one day. [You can read the whole story here.] After seven years, we had 30 percent in groups. After one weekend, we jumped to 60 percent in groups.

Other than Jesus Christ, the reason unconnected people attend your church is because of your senior pastor. They like his personality. They laugh at his jokes. They enjoy his teaching. Now, don’t mention this to your worship pastor. It will break his heart.

When the senior pastor stands up and offers curriculum based on his teaching (or at least aligned with his teaching, if you’re going the purchased route), you are giving your people more of what they already like — your pastor’s teaching. Then, when the pastor invites the people to open their homes and host a group, they will follow his leadership. Believe me, I’ve been an Associate Pastor for most of my 25 years in ministry. If I made the same invitation in the service, I would get 30 percent the result of our senior pastor. Once my pastor starting recruiting from the platform, I never handpicked another group leader ever again.

Get Your Coaching Structure Started

Many churches have given up on small group coaches. Even very large churches who are well-known for their small group ministries have abandoned coaching or use paid staff to coach. This is a mistake. First, most churches could never afford to hire all of the staff they need. Second, if you are not personally caring for your leaders, your leaders will eventually stop leading. I was able to coach my leaders up to about 30 percent connected into groups, but to be honest, I didn’t do it very well. But, I learned not to beat myself up.

When we doubled our groups in a day, I was in a coaching crisis. Then, it dawned on me, since we doubled that meant half of the small group leaders didn’t know what they were doing, but the other half did. I matched them up like the buddy system, and it worked. Then, I built the rest of the coaching structure on that. Read more about small group coaching here.

Leave Established Groups Alone

Now, here is what I didn’t do. I didn’t invite my established small group leaders to do the new series. I didn’t ask my established small group leaders to change anything. In fact, I didn’t even tell them. Why?

I already had them. They didn’t need to change. They just needed to continue. If it ain’t broke… Now, many of the established small groups did participate in the alignment series, but I never asked them to. They asked me!

If you are killing yourself and only have 30 percent of your adults in groups, it is time to make a change. Now, you could change to another church who has no groups and become a big success by connecting 30 percent of their people into groups. Or, you could change up your strategies of how you recruit small group leaders and make huge progress right where you are.

Where are you stuck?

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Wednesday, September 14 – 1:30pm Eastern/ 10:30am Pacific

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For more posts by Allen White or Information on Allen White Consulting

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The Unfairness of Being Fair

By Allen White

Photo by Unal Ozman

Photo by Unal Ozman

“If I did that for small groups, then I would have to do the same for everyone else.” Have you ever heard those words before?

When it came to getting airtime in the weekend services for small groups, I’ve faced a few culprits over the years. First, I thought the problem was the Worship Pastor who didn’t want to interrupt “the flow” of the worship service. Then, I thought the problem rested with the Communications Director, who just wanted to control everything. I’m not ready to rule them out entirely, but I have found the true troublemaker:

The Idea of Fairness.

Fairness says, “If I promote your ministry, then I have to promote everyone else’s ministry at the same level.” It also says, “I can’t promote only your ministry on one weekend or else others will think I’m playing favorites.” I am personifying Fairness here, because I think it’s demonic. Now, some of you may be thinking that I’m overstating my frustration with Fairness, but the rest of you are glad that I called it out.

If Fairness determines what gets promoted in your church, then don’t wonder why your church continues to flounder at small groups or anything else. If you’re ready to move forward and get unstuck from Fairness, then ask yourself a few questions:

1. Where is Your Church Headed?

Now, before you hike off into the woods and spend three days going ’round and ’round about the same things you discussed last year, let’s face it, most church mission and vision statements are practically identical. Our mission is Christ’s mission. Love God and Love People or Love, Serve, Share, or something similar. We’re all clear.

But, how is your church doing that? Maybe you’re not. I hope that’s not true.

Most churches “Love God” through worship services and through our relationships with each other. “Loving People” comes through serving them, caring for them, helping them grow in their faith, and so on. What is helping your people achieve what God has called them to in your church? If it’s Sunday School, then promote Sunday School. If it’s Serving the Community, then promote Serving the Community. If it’s Small Groups, then promote Small Groups. If it’s a combination of things, then promote a combination of things.

But, you don’t need to promote everything all at once or equally.

2. What is Growing in Your Church and What is Declining?

For most churches in North America, traditional means of discipleship like Sunday School classes and Midweek Bible Study are on the decline. People just don’t want to commit four hours every Sunday morning or come back on Wednesday night. Now, if these things are working for you, then don’t shut them down. But, no amount of additional airtime in the weekend services is going to get more people into Sunday School or Midweek Bible Study.

Now if you have a rockin’ Sunday School or Midweek and nearly 100 percent of your adults are being discipled that way, then promote what’s working. Don’t worry about Small Groups. When was the last time you stopped to compare your church’s discipleship options with your average weekly adult attendance? If there is a gap of more than 30 percent between your worship attendance and your discipleship options, then it’s time to promote groups. And, de-emphasize the other offerings that aren’t growing.

3. What Ministries Impact the Most People in Your Church and in Your Community?

In many churches, their church bulletins and websites are like the old Sears catalog. It lists about every possible thing anyone could ever want. The only problem is you can’t find it. At least the Sears catalog gave us an index.

A while back a study was conducted to determine ice cream sales. At one store, 20 flavors were sampled by customers. At another store, four flavors were offered. Which store sold the most ice cream? The store that was sampling only four flavors sold more ice cream. They found choosing one out of four flavors was a much simpler decision than choosing one flavor from 20 kinds.

If you took a hard look at the ministries your church offers, which ones impact the greatest number of people or have the potential to? It’s probably not “Paws for People.”

In the last church I served, we had a ministry called “Paws for People.” People brought their dogs to nursing homes to cheer up the residents. I am a dog lover. When I’m in a nursing home one day, a canine visitor would be very welcome. But, why would this ministry ever be promoted to our entire congregation of 5,000 adults?

How many were dog owners? How many were already involved in a ministry? How many had a heart to go to nursing homes? (When was the last time you visited a nursing home outside of work?) The subset of potential candidates gets smaller and smaller.

While “Paws for People” would be great in a booth at a ministry fair, they don’t need airtime in the weekend services. Why? What they offer doesn’t impact 50 percent or more of the people in the service. But, if Fairness had its say, “Paws for People” would get equal airtime with everyone else.

What does impact 50 percent or more? Small groups, of course. Maybe Women’s Ministry or Men’s Ministry, if you have them. (If you don’t have these, don’t start them). All church events. You get the picture.

4. How Do Your People Stay Informed?

Most churches have a variety of ways to communicate to their people: bulletins, slides before the service, videos, inserts, ministry tables in the lobby, e-newsletters, other emails, church apps, church website, etc. But, which ones are actually effective in getting the word out about your ministry?

Often I survey the churches I work with (and those I have served) and ask how people stay informed about church events. While every church is a little different, this is important information. If you expect your church’s website to do all of the heavy lifting on keeping people informed, well, 1995 just called and they want their AOL back.

In the last church I served, they were big on video announcements. But, the video announcements were played before the service when less than 10 percent of the congregation was even in the auditorium. What I discovered through a survey was that our people stayed informed through the church bulletin, a weekly email newsletter, and announcements made in the service.

When we met to plan our events, they thought I was being humble when I told them a video announcement wasn’t necessary. I only wanted an ad in the bulletin and the e-newsletter. And, leading up to a campaign, the Senior Pastor made announcements to recruit leaders (and there were no other announcements on those three weeks). Worked every time.

A Few Thoughts

As a pastor, it’s hard when anyone accuses you of anything, let alone playing favorites. You face enough pressures just from ministry. Who needs the pressure?

Fairness says, “Everything is important.”

Let’s face it, if Everything is Important, then Nothing is Important.

But, there are plenty of pastors who cower behind Fairness. They would rather make the announcement for “Paws for People” rather than face a confrontation. It’s too bad. They are doing a disservice to their churches.

Promote what you want to see grow in your church. Stop promoting what is declining or dying. No amount of life support is going to bring it back. Then, set priorities for your promotion. And, please don’t relegate these decisions to the Worship Pastor or the Communications Director.

Let me know what you think?

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Bad Times to Launch Small Groups

By Allen White

42505608 - launch word written on calendar using pen

After launching small groups with church-wide campaigns over the last 14 years, I’ve discovered there are some great times to launch groups, and there are definitely some seasons or situations to avoid. Considering the effort that’s put into a campaign whether you are purchasing someone else’s campaign or creating your own, you want to get the most bang for your buck. Why put all of that time, energy, and effort into something that will end up with a mediocre result? Here are some seasons and situations to avoid:

1. Summer.

My men’s group met 52 weeks of the year. We met at a restaurant for lunch on Wednesdays. Like most guys, we ate lunch 52 weeks of the year, so we did a Bible study too. I’m not sure 52 weeks per year is ideal, but it worked for us. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for everyone.

Because of the school calendar, which was based on an agrarian society, most schools are in session from Labor Day until Memorial Day as God intended. Some schools, however, start early in August. This pre-Labor Day start is against the natural order of things, in my humble opinion. But, most schools offer the three reasons teachers have entered the profession: June, July, and August.

Families go on vacation. The evenings are longer. Even committed group members tend to forget about small groups. If getting groups to continue meetings is a challenge during the Summer, then starting groups in the Summer is even more difficult.

Summer is the weakest season of the year to launch groups. The strongest seasons for group launches are (in order): Fall, New Years, and Spring (after Easter). Summer is in last place by a mile. By launching groups in the Summer, you are faced with two issue. First, you’re not getting your bang for the buck as mentioned earlier. Second, you are taking away from the impact of your Fall campaign. Not only is Fall the start of the school year, but the Summer break before Fall helps to make a Fall launch the strongest of the year.

Now, there will be groups like mine who want to continue through the Summer come hell or high water. Let them meet. But, don’t spend a leadership coin on a Summer launch. Save it until Fall.

2. Capital Campaign.

Growing churches build. Building churches requires a lot of money and usually some sort of capital campaign. We understand this.

People who are in groups tend to give more than people who are not in groups. According to Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger in Transformational Groups, their research has shown that people not in groups give 6.07 percent of their income, while those who attended a group 4 or more times a month gave 10.34 percent (p 45). If a family earned $35,000 per year, this means their annual giving would increase by $1494.50 per year if they joined a small group.

If the church needs money, and people in groups tend to give more money, then why not get everybody into groups so they’ll give to more the capital campaign. That equation works for the short-term, but not the long term.

Once an association is made between small groups and capital campaigns, then the next time the call is made for people to join small groups, most people will think, “I wonder how much money they need to raise this time.” I’m not saying capital campaigns are wrong. They’re not. They are necessary. But, capital campaigns and small group campaigns simply do not go together.

To avoid a bad associate, get ahead of the capital campaigns. Form groups in the New Year, then start the capital campaign in the Fall. Groups can certainly study something about the church’s vision related to the capital campaign, and they’ve started well enough in advance that the association shouldn’t be made.

3. During a Church Crisis.

When a church is facing a major crisis, like the pastor’s forced resignation, a devastating financial blow, or a scandal of any kind, this is not the time to start small groups. I’m not being glib. My first pastor had to resign after I’d only been on staff for 18 months. While groups will certainly bond people together, disgruntled individuals can become platoons who will march right out of your church together. Wait until the dust settles, then launch groups.

4. Simultaneously with Another Major Initiative.

My friend, Gilbert Thurston says, “If you are casting vision for two things at the same time, you are creating Di-vision or division.” No pastor wants to promote division. The problem is if the best time to launch small groups is in the Fall and the New Year, well, it’s also the best time to launch everything else. Sigh.

To avoid creating di-vision in your church, stagger your announcements. If you’re church has on-going or semester-based groups and ministries like Celebrate Recovery, Financial Peace University, DivorceCare, GriefShare, or others, then start those before you make the call for groups. While it’s nice to have everyone in the church studying the same thing, it’s not necessary for an effective group launch. Once the support groups have started, then gear up for your big Fall or New Year’s launch.

5. If the Majority of Your Adults are in Sunday School.

Some churches don’t need small groups. Maybe they’d like to have groups, but for those churches who still run a thriving adult Sunday school, groups really aren’t necessary. Now, I’m talking about churches with 90 percent of their adults in Sunday school today. This is different from churches with declining Sunday schools who think that promoting Sunday school more will boost attendance. If that’s you, then you need to start groups. Your Sunday school ain’t coming back. But, there are those churches with well established, thriving Sunday schools. My word to you — Keep Sunday School working. If it begins to slip, then think groups.

You really have to ask yourself: Are we in the meeting business or are we in the discipleship business? You can make disciples in Sunday school. You can make disciples in groups. The goal is not groups. The goal is developing leaders and making disciples.

6. Christmas.

For many of the same reasons as Summer, the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day become overloaded with activities for most people in your church. Between school programs, Christmas parties, special Christmas services, shopping, traveling, and whatever else they’ve piled on themselves, the Christmas season is a very difficult time to start groups or for groups to even meet regularly. Groups can have fun together or serve together, but weekly meetings are probably out.

7. Immediately after New Year’s Day.

Most senior pastors want to kick off the new year with a “State of the Church” type of message or “Vision Sunday,” then they want to get right into their series the second Sunday in January. If this is when the church chooses to launch groups, there’s a big problem — there is no time to recruit leaders or form groups. If you think, “We will just recruit leaders in December for the January launch,” then go back and read #6. I’ve tried this. I ended up standing in the briefing room, listening to crickets, and questioning the call of God on my life. You can’t recruit nobody for nuthin’ in December. Save yourself some headaches.

The “New Year’s” launch will go much better if there is time in January to recruit leaders and form groups before the series starts in late January. Better yet, use the whole month of January to recruit and form groups, then run your series between the Christian holidays of Super Bowl Sunday and Easter.

Every church is different. For instance, Canadian churches will want to start their Fall series after Canadian Thanksgiving. If you live in Seattle and the mountain is still out in September, you might want to wait until October to start your series. If your people’s calendars fill up very quickly at the start of the school year, then you’d better launch groups when school starts, so folks still have an evening available.

Use these seven suggestions to guide you. I want you to succeed with your next group launch, but in the end, you need to do what works best in your neck of the woods.

c u r r E n t l y

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