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7 Reasons Your Fall Group Launch Bombed

By Allen White empty room

Fall is a prime season to launch groups in churches across the country. In my consulting work, I am working with churches from Florida to Washington and Southern California to New York City. Among churches of various sizes and denominations, we are seeing some tremendous results. But, not every church hits a home run with their group launch. Here are some reasons why.

  1. You picked the wrong topic.

Small groups are a great vehicle for people to grow spiritually. But, in order for people to grow in a group, they need to actually be in a group. If a church’s goal is to connect their congregation into groups, then a felt needs topic is very attractive. If you give people something they want to study, they will jump right in. If you offer something they “should” study, it may not go so well.

Let me go on the record: Healthy, balanced small groups cannot live by felt needs topics alone. But, kicking off groups usually doesn’t go well with series on evangelism, stewardship, fasting, or other self-sacrificial studies. You need to establish your goal. If you want to increase the number of groups, then go felt needs. If you want to grow your people deeper, then offer these topics to your established groups.

  1. You set the bar too high.

The more requirements for group leadership, the fewer leaders you will recruit. If you required all of your new leaders to be church members, complete a lengthy leadership training process, or graduate with their Master of Divinity, you certainly limited the number of groups you could launch this Fall.

Your level of acceptable risk will greatly determine the reward. If you invite people to do a study with their friends, then you are only limited to people with friends. If you increase the requirements, you lessen the impact.

If you choose to lower the bar next time, then lessen the risk by forming “unpublished” groups. If the groups don’t appear on your church’s website, group listing, or bulletin, you are not implying any kind of official endorsement of the groups. If friends invite friends, you will form good, lasting groups, and if someone gets in a bad group, well, it was their friend’s group after all.

  1. You focused on recruiting group members.

As a pastor, if the invitation is for potential group members, you may or may not actually start groups. You will certainly give yourself a lot of busy work trying to find enough leaders to accommodate the prospects or trying to place people in the right group. But, you’ve missed the mark and the point.

If you have a bunch of prospective group members, you might have a group. If you have a leader, you WILL have a group. In fact, the best way to get into a group is to start a group — you’re automatically in! When the focus is on recruiting leaders, you will greatly increase your number of groups. If your focus is on members, you will probably just end up with a mess.

  1. You put too much distance between the invitation and the response.

When you or your senior pastor made the invitation for people to start a group, how and when did they respond?

If they were sent to the church website to register, they didn’t go.

If they were sent to the church lobby, they walked right by.

If they were invited to a meeting in the near future, they forgot.

If they had a sign up card in their hand during the service, bingo, they’re in!

If they were sent an email to remind them to sign up at church on Sunday, they forgot again.

If they were sent an email with a registration link, then they signed up.

The less distance between the invitation and the response, the greater the result.

  1. You gave too many steps from “Yes” to starting the group.

If the pathway from the response to the group starting took too many steps, then you lost leaders at every phase.

If you recruited months in advance of your group launch, there were too many days before they started. Cold feet and good intentions didn’t get them there.

If you required a training class, a membership  class, a pastoral interview, a group orientation, a group connection, and a final debrief meeting, you lost, lost, lost, lost and lost new group leaders.

If you kept the steps to a minimum, based on your own acceptable level of risk, you kept far more than any of the above scenarios.

  1. Your recruitment period was too short.

A few years ago, I was working with two churches of similar size who were launching groups on the same week. One church recruited 20 new leaders. The other recruited 60. The first church recruited leaders for one week. The second church recruited for three weeks in a row. Triple the recruiting equaled triple the result. You do the math.

  1. Your senior pastor was not on board.

If your senior pastor was hesitant about your next series in any way, it hurt you. Half-hearted appeals and hit or miss invitations lead to lackluster results.

If your senior pastor didn’t make the invitation for leaders, that was a huge miss. The senior pastor will get three times the result of any other staff member. I’ve served as an associate pastor for 20 of my 24 years of ministry. As soon as I learned this, I never made the invitation again.

How do you get your senior pastor on board with the series you recommend? You don’t. If you want your group launch to succeed, you have to get on board with where your senior pastor wants to go. If you respect your senior pastor’s direction, you will see respectable results. If you try to pressure your senior pastor into a series that is not his idea, you are on your own (literally).

Last Sunday, I worshipped with a church who had never had small groups. Their senior pastor decided it was time. He cast vision for groups. He kept the response close to the invitation. He focused on recruiting leaders. He did it all right. Then, on Sunday afternoon, 360 new group leaders showed up for training (and they have two more weeks to recruit!)

Learn the lessons from your failed attempt. There is no shame in failure, but there is shame in not learning.

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3 Comments

My small group doesn’t have enough time to talk.

Let’s start by saying, “Congratulations, you’re group is talking.” That’s a plus. But, it sounds like your group can’t get enough of a good thing. A good discussion can last anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours. If you still don’t have enough time to talk, there might be several reasons:

 

1.    Your group might be too big. If your group has more than eight people, it’s no longer a “small” group. Usually when a group grows to be larger than eight, the more vocal folks take over and the less vocal folks hide. The easy solution here is to sub-group during the discussion. Now, this doesn’t mean that the evil small groups pastor is going to split up your group. I would never do that. Sub-grouping can be as simple as creating smaller circles of 3-4 people for part or all of the discussion, then coming back at the end of the study to conclude the meeting. Another effective method is to have group members discuss the question with one other person, then share their discovery with the rest of the group. In educational circles, this is known as “neighbor nudging.” Either of these methods can get your whole group talking.

 

2.    Your group might be trying to cover too much. A good group discussion doesn’t have to cover every question in the study guide. In fact, some of the best discussions might only touch on five or six questions. The strength of your discussion will be the thoughts of your group members based on the Word of God and on their life experiences. As your group gets to know each other, it won’t take as much to get them talking. Use the lesson as a tool to facilitate discussion, not a referee to rule the discussion. You’ll need to keep things on track, but that doesn’t mean covering every question in the book. You might even need a couple of meetings to complete one lesson. Or, you can just cover the gist of the lesson and move on to the next.

 

3.    Your group might be prone to chasing rabbit trails. While there is a place for catching up with each other, when it comes to the Bible discussion, the leader’s job is to keep the discussion on track. If your Bible study on the character of being a good friend leads to a discussion of the end times, you’re group is probably off track. The leader can just simply say something like “Well, that’s a whole other can of worms” or “We’ll need to save that topic for another day.” Then, move on to the next question. Discussions that meander and frequently get off topic can become frustrating to your group members. Sometimes people don’t even know how to stop the rabbit trail and get back on track. A gentle reminder from the leader and a move toward the next question does the trick.

 

4.    Your group might have a big talker. If someone is dominating the discussion or is answering every question, the leader needs to step in for the sake of the whole group. If after the first couple of meetings you notice that someone is taking over the group, you might say something like, “On this next question, let’s hear from someone who hasn’t shared yet today.” If your big talker still doesn’t get it, then for the next question, intentionally avoid eye contact with the talker. This might discourage them from chiming in. If all else fails, sit next to the big talker at the next meeting. When they start to response again, reach over and tap them on the leg. This will cause them to pause long enough for someone else to answer.

 

If they still don’t get it, then talk to them after the meeting. Ask them to help you draw out some of the quieter members of the group. You might say something like, “Have you noticed that several people in the group haven’t shared much in the group? How do you think we can help them contribute?”

 

My guess is that your big talker is probably a leader, and with a little bit of direction, they could lead their own group before you know it. If a few of your members go along with this new leader, then your group may have solved the “not enough time to talk” issue.

 

5.    Your group might not be spending any time together outside of the group meeting. What happens outside of the meeting will greatly influence what happens in the meeting. Service projects, block parties, prayer partner meetings or even a cup of coffee between members will help your group become better connected. This will provide a less formal opportunity for conversation and relationship. These “meetings between the meetings” offer some needed relationship building so that everything doesn’t have to happen during the small group meeting.

 

There is an art and science to group discussion. Leaders should avoid legalistic rules of discussion, but should also avoid the extreme of “anything goes.” Finding the right balance for your group is something that needs to be fine tuned weekly. Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and to your group members will go a long way in directing your discussions.

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