Hoboken Grace is a church of eight hundred adults in Hoboken, New Jersey, near New York City. This region is known for young, single, upwardly mobile residents who eventually marry and move to the suburbs. The church is eleven years old and has offered small groups since its beginning.

The church’s previous effort at groups had connected about five hundred of their eight hundred members into groups. But the operative word here is effort. “At that point, identifying new group leaders was heavy apprenticing and heavy individual recruiting,” said Nick Lenzi, the church’s community director. “We had reluctance to church-wide campaigns. We felt it was really hard to create our own curriculum, or at least we thought the barriers for that were really high.”

For their first church-wide campaign, the church chose to purchase curriculum for their Be Rich series. The topic was finances, and the curriculum choice was from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU). This was the direction the lead pastor was going, so the small group campaign followed suit.

What’s more, FPU required the facilitators to have advanced training. Nine months before the campaign, they let the group leaders know about the series. “In January, we had the pastor put together a vision video,” Lenzi said. “He told them, ‘I want you guys to get into FPU because we need as many qualified people this fall to take the entire church through FPU. If you know the material, you’re going to have a huge leg up and be able to help so many people.’ When our people heard from the lead pastor, they accepted that call to action.”

“We were starting community and talking about the most intimate thing in today’s society,” Lenzi admits. Yet, in this first alignment series, the church was able to connect a total of 91 percent of their adults into groups. They had connected an additional 28 percent of their adults into groups using a relatively difficult topic. (63% were previously in groups.)

With one series under their belt, the church took the next step to create their own teaching videos to align with a published series (with permission). “I got a teleprompter,” Lenzi said. “My pastor asked, ‘Where has this thing been my whole life?’”

The church also decided to try a new strategy in recruiting group leaders. “One of our values is that everyone in the church takes responsibility for their own spiritual growth. Now I’m looking for leaders who are able to encourage a group and support people in their own spiritual growth. When we invite people to lead groups, we invite them to encourage people and help these gatherings to happen. The church is going to partner with them. We’re going to give them the questions. We’re going to offer the video teaching. We’ll put the leaders in touch with the care pastors if something comes up. This has been so fruitful. My ‘close rate’ is 90 to 95 percent, because everyone believes they can encourage someone else. The nature of the groups is going from house to house, or restaurant to restaurant. We’ve found that we just need to get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit be the Holy Spirit.”

With their pastor’s video teaching and an openness to give their people permission and opportunity to lead these gatherings, Hoboken Grace continues to make a kingdom impact in a neighborhood of the biggest city in the United States.

Nick Lenzi and Hoboken Grace Church were part of the 2018 Small Group Ministry Coaching Group.

This case study is an excerpt from the Exponential Groups Workbook.