A Summer Series Can Stunt Your Fall Launch

A Summer Series Can Stunt Your Fall Launch

When it comes to discipleship and small groups, there is a tension between series, seasons, and semesters. On the one hand, you don’t want to fight against the community calendar. But, on the other side of things, you can’t have only 8-12 weeks for discipleship in a year. What’s the balance?

Don’t Fight the Losing Battle of the Calendar

Most people have been conditioned by the academic calendar, even if they are no longer in school. You’re hard at it from Labor Day to Thanksgiving, and then from the New Year up to Memorial Day, but between those holidays there are breaks. People are conditioned to this. There are a few exceptions, but even communities with year-round school still see an ebb in attendance and participation in the Summer.

Where I live in South Carolina, everyone goes on vacation either in the week before or after the Fourth of July. Back in the days of the textile industry, the mills closed for the weeks on either side of Independence Day. Now, all of the textile mills are long gone, but the pattern remains.

Your community also has seasonal rhythms like this. But, do you give up on discipleship during the Summer. Think of alternatives like a Summer devotional that people can take to the beach or the lake (or on their phone). Discipleship doesn’t need to stop, but the form might need to adjust for the Summer months.

Don’t Win the Battle and Lose the War.

I’ve seen churches do semesters or even church-wide campaigns during the Summer months. As you might expect, participation was a third or less from either a Fall series or a New Year’s series, but there were some folks who benefited. The problem was the Summer launch reduced the momentum for the Fall launch when everyone is back in church and available. They saw less participation and fewer new leaders than in previous Fall launches because the Summer study took the steam out of it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I led a group for four years that met for all 52 weeks of the year for Bible study. It is possible, but is it practical or necessary? You have to decide for your church.

How Do You Use the Summer?

The effort to make well-rounded disciples requires more than group meetings and Bible studies. Relationships and group life play a big part in offering the encouragement and accountability that each member needs to grow. While there is a place to learn what Jesus commanded, His command to us was to “teach them to obey what I’ve commanded” (Matthew 28:20). You have to know the commands to obey them, but you have to obey them to become the kind of disciple Jesus had in mind.

Summer provides the opportunity to grow by other means. Groups could serve together. Is there a Summer youth event or camp where they could help? How about a missions trip? Does a neighbor have a neglected yard? Maybe the group could pitch in to help? But, it doesn’t need to be all work.

I’ve seen groups go on vacation together, go camping together, or go exploring on a day trip. One group in our church went on a cruise together. They met another couple from our town on the cruise, who ended up being part of their group when they returned.

Groups need to work hard together, but they also need to play hard together. Often you catch a better glimpse of someone outside of a meeting. Meetings are important, but group life is equally as important.

Concluding Thoughts

Make Summer your ally, not your enemy. Don’t fight the calendar. But, remember, chances are people will be more faithful to their group over the Summer than they will to weekend services. Don’t stop your groups, but maybe make an adjustment.

What will your groups do this Summer? Leave your comments below.

Allen White helps Take the Guesswork Out of Groups. We offer books, online courses, coaching groups, and consulting.

Three Reasons You Shouldn’t Start Groups After Easter

Three Reasons You Shouldn’t Start Groups After Easter

The temptation to start new groups after Easter is fairly irresistible. Easter is by far the largest Sunday of the year. Why not launch groups from the largest crowd you’ll see all year? You might not see them again until Christmas.

But, there are three group killers after Easter: June, July and August. Why start groups in the Spring only to watch them die out over the Summer? It seems they would have a better chance of survival in the Fall.

I have to admit this is exactly what I used to think about launching groups off of Easter, but I had a change of heart once I discovered ways to sustain 80 percent of those new Spring groups in the Fall. Here’s what I’ve learned:

1.       Groups Need a Next Step.

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

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

The first time we launched groups in the Spring, we gathered the new leaders mid-way through the Spring study and invited them to join our next series which began on the second Sunday of October. Then, we held our breath. It’s a long stretch from mid-May to mid-October. October held a big surprise.

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

If your groups were launched with a video-based curriculum, you should offer another video-based curriculum as a next step. This could be your next church-wide campaign or a curriculum about how to be a small group. Over the years, I’ve challenged churches to create their own new group curriculum, but no one has taken me up on it so far. I decided to make this easier for you. I have written a new study called Community: Starting a Healthy Group which comes with the video scripts for you to record your own videos! (Releases March 30, 2019).

Whatever you choose, offer a next step to your groups and most will continue.

2.       Very Few People Take the Entire Summer Off.

Only a handful of folks spend the entire summer at the beach. For the rest of us, chances are we will miss more weekend services in the Summer than group meetings. Before the group hits Memorial Day ask everyone to bring their calendars. Then, find six dates during the Summer when the group can meet. You might choose a six session study or you might choose one of the options below.

The six dates probably won’t fit neatly in a row, but that’s okay. Even if the group can only meet once per month, it’s a great way to stay connected to group life, even if you don’t have a formal group meeting.

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

You will find more neighbors outdoors during the Summer than any other time of year. With longer days and kids out of school, why not host a neighborhood block party with your group? Roll the barbecue grill out onto your driveway to grill a few hot dogs. Rent an inflatable bounce house for the kids. Bring plenty of lawn chairs. Maybe even have a little music. Invite everybody.

People will wonder by and join in before you know it. This is a great way to meet your neighbors, and maybe even invite them to your group. By putting the party in the front yard rather than the backyard, neighbors will come and see what’s going on.

4.       Get Your Group Outside.

Group discussions don’t work so well outside. The neighbors haven’t agreed to confidentiality for what they hear over the backyard fence. Outdoor Bible studies usually don’t work, but there are plenty of other reasons to go outside.

Who does your group know who needs help? Plan a service day and help a neighbor. They don’t need to ask the church office, or even inform the church. They just need to look around and get to work.

Experiencing life together in a different setting will add depth and richness to your group. Once everyone sees the group in action, the dynamic of your meetings and studies will become dramatically different.

Summer shouldn’t be the death of small groups. In fact, June, July and August can breathe new life into both new and existing groups. With a little planning and a lot of flexibility, Summer could become the best time of year for group life.

Allen White helps Take the Guesswork Out of Groups. We offer books, online courses, coaching groups, and consulting.

Bad Times to Launch Small Groups

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

Invest in Yourself This Summer

Invest in Yourself This Summer

By Allen White

Leading an Exponential Group Launch

After spending the year pouring into others, often we get to Summer and dream of a tropical paradise. For more of us, that tropical paradise amounts to a week in Myrtle Beach. (There are better places to vacation in South Carolina, but as a resident for nine years now, I’m not allowed to tell you, especially if you’re from Ohio.)

Let’s face it for those of us overseeing discipleship and small group ministries in a church, Summer is really sort of an annual sabbatical for us in a way. After that week of vacation, what do we do? Sure we pitch in at VBS or youth camp. We might lead a mission trip or speak on a weekend or two. But, often we have more discretionary time in the Summer than in most other times of the year. What you invest in yourself now could make a huge difference this Fall.

Now that you have six weeks of your “sabbatical” remaining, here are a few thought about making your time productive and your Fall awesome.

Read.

I learned a long time ago that leaders are readers. Here’s the great news: you have time to read. Whether you prefer printed books, ebooks, or audio books, there is time to read. If you can’t find time to sit down and read for 20 minutes during the day, then download an audio book to listen when you travel to and from the office. My Summer commute is all of 12 minutes, but I can get 24 minutes of listening time in every day, which is two hours per week. When we multiply that by 6 weeks, we just found 12 hours of reading time this Summer.

Most of us don’t have hours to read during the day, but if we put in another 20 minutes, we could probably cover at least a chapter a day. Our lives are too short to make all of the mistakes and learn all of the hard lessons ourselves. So, cheat. Learn from other people mistakes and hard lessons. Here are a few books I’ve either just read or am reading this Summer.

Contagious by Jonah Berger. A professor at the Wharton School of Business discovers the best approaches and appeals to marketing. With great stories like the $100 Philly Cheese Steak and a Youtube sensation called “Will It Blend?” the author will take you through the six key areas of effective promotion. As you think about promoting your small groups this Fall, you will uncover some interesting thoughts from Berger about what to present and how to make it work.

Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley. This is Andy Stanley’s “Gentlemen, this is a football” speech. Starting with the incredible stories of the inauspicious beginnings of North Point Community Church and challenging the church to be the church, Stanley delivers a solid whack on the side of the head.

Small Groups for the Rest of Us by Chris Surratt. My friend, Chris, released this book last year. He offers a unique approach to groups in an approachable and transferable way. So many small group models just don’t work other places. Chris’ thoughts will work in churches large and small.

Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy. As pastors we are focused on fulfilling God’s plan for our lives. But, often we spend our days spinning our wheels and crying out to God for direction. While we should never be presumptuous about our own plans, the reality is if we don’t have a plan, then not very much gets accomplished. Living Forward helps you plan ahead for every aspect of your life. It’s not about getting rich quick or reaching the pinnacle of success as much as it’s about planning to give every area of your life what it needs when it needs it. How do you know how to do that? You have a plan.

Take an Online Course.

My book won’t be out until January 2017, so I can’t recommend it yet. But, if you’d like to see the first chapter, you can download it here: allenwhite.org/ebook. What I can offer you is my six session online course called Leading an Exponential to Group Launch. In this course you will learn proven strategies of set goals and make a plan, recruit leaders, develop a coaching structure, form groups, and get your groups to continue. This is a downloadable resource which includes six 45-60 minute talks along with the slide deck and some great downloadable templates, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If you would like to invest in a a live, in-person coaching relationship, I am starting a new six month coaching group this month. For more details, contact info@allenwhite.org
Take some time for yourself. Fall will be here before you know it. If you don’t have time to invest in yourself this Summer, well, then you have some things to learn.
What do you plan to differently this Fall than before? Leave your response below.
Three Reasons You Shouldn’t Start Groups After Easter

Three Reasons You Shouldn’t Start Groups After Easter

By Allen White

The temptation to start new groups after Easter is fairly irresistible. Easter is by far the largest Sunday of the year. Why not launch groups from the largest crowd you’ll see all year? You might not see them again until Christmas.

But, there are three group killers after Easter: June, July and August. Why start groups in the Spring only to watch them die out over the Summer? It seems they would have a better chance of survival in the Fall.

I have to admit this is exactly what I used to think about launching groups off of Easter, but I had a change of heart once I discovered ways to sustain 80 percent of those new Spring groups in the Fall. Here’s what I’ve learned:

1.       Groups Need a Next Step.

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

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

The first time we launched groups in the Spring, we gathered the new leaders mid-way through the Spring study and invited them to join our next series which began on the second Sunday of October. Then, we held our breath. It’s a long stretch from mid-May to mid-October. October held a big surprise.

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

2.       Very Few People Take the Entire Summer Off.

Only a handful of folks spend the entire summer at the beach. For the rest of us, chances are we will miss more weekend services in the Summer than group meetings. Before the group hits Memorial Day ask everyone to bring their calendars. Then, find six dates during the Summer when the group can meet. You might choose a six session study or you might choose one of the options below.

The six dates probably won’t fit neatly in a row, but that’s okay. Even if the group can only meet once per month, it’s a great way to stay connected to group life, even if you don’t have a formal group meeting.

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

You will find more neighbors outdoors during the Summer than any other time of year. With longer days and kids out of school, why not host a neighborhood block party with your group? Roll the barbecue grill out onto your driveway to grill a few hot dogs. Rent an inflatable bounce house for the kids. Bring plenty of lawn chairs. Maybe even have a little music. Invite everybody.

People will wonder by and join in before you know it. This is a great way to meet your neighbors, and maybe even invite them to your group. By putting the party in the front yard rather than the backyard, neighbors will come and see what’s going on.

4.       Get Your Group Outside.

Group discussions don’t work so well outside. The neighbors haven’t agreed to confidentiality for what they hear over the backyard fence. Outdoor Bible studies usually don’t work, but there are plenty of other reasons to go outside.

Who does your group know who needs help? Plan a service day and help a neighbor. If you’re not aware of someone in need of help, go to wydopen.com and see if there’s a project in your area. Or, volunteer a day with Habitat for Humanity or another community organization.

Experiencing life together in a different setting will add depth and richness to your group. Once everyone sees the group in action, the dynamic of your meetings and studies will become dramatically different.

Summer shouldn’t be the death of small groups. In fact, June, July and August can breathe new life into both new and existing groups. With a little planning and a lot of flexibility, Summer could become the best time of year for group life.

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