Case Study: Getting Groups to Continue

Case Study: Getting Groups to Continue

Christ Church is a United Methodist Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois. They have been ranked as the third fastest growing UM church in the U.S. “We have a transient church. Our town is around a military community, so we get a lot of visitors. We have experienced some rapid growth over the years,” said Pam Huff, former Director of Connection and Discipleship (now retired).

When she first came to the church, groups were pretty disorganized. “There was no organization whatsoever. Small groups were pretty new in the beginning. There had been a lack of leadership. If I did anything else, I put some organization into the small group ministry.” Not only that, but she learned to leverage relationships in both forming groups and partnering new leaders with coaches.

To connect people, the church started using church-wide campaigns, but found that only a limited number of groups would continue. “At this point, we started to introduce the whole coaching system. I didn’t have good luck getting them established with my old groups, but our new groups responded well.” Pam looked over all of the church’s experienced leaders and invited those she believed would be the most supportive of the small group ministry. “The new leaders would come to a training event and meet the coaches there. Originally, I would assign new leaders to coaches, but then the leaders didn’t know who was calling them or why, even though I had told them they would get a call.” By providing an opportunity for coaches to connect directly with the new leaders, natural connections formed, and the coaching relationship began.

For group formation, the church didn’t put a lot of requirements on new leaders except for inviting members to their groups. “My only real requirement was that someone was a Christian. I would usually have a face-to-face contact with them, but there was no real vetting process for new leaders. We really encouraged people to do a lot of inviting themselves.”

The church supplemented personal invitations with opportunities for the congregation to sign up for specific groups after the worship service. “We would introduce the leaders during the service so people could put a face with a name. Then, the leaders would stand by their sign-up sheets in our Scripture Hall, which was a big gathering area.” People would sign up for the specific group they wanted to join.

The church found personal invitation and personal introduction at these sign-up events was far superior to assigning people to groups. “Sometimes people would fill out a card in the service indicating they wanted to join a group. When I reached out to them, I would never hear back from them. It’s almost like they were surprised that somebody actually contacted them.” By providing more active methods of forming groups like invitations and in-person sign-up opportunities, more people found their way into groups without all of the work of processing sign-up cards that never really netted many results.

The way Christ Church chose to form groups greatly determined the groups on-going success. Groups of friends indeed lasted longer than groups of strangers. Coaches gave new leaders the encouragement and support they need to both start and continue their groups. These simple adjustments helped Pam to start and keep more groups than ever before.

For more information on helping your groups to continue, check out the 3 Keys to Lasting Groups online course.

This case study is an excerpt from the Exponential Groups Workbook (Hendrickson 2020).

Episode 6: Mark Richardson from San Diego Rock Church on Developing and Multiplying Leaders and Groups

Episode 6: Mark Richardson from San Diego Rock Church on Developing and Multiplying Leaders and Groups

This Podcast is available on: Apple Podcasts – Google Play – Spotify – Amazon Music/Audible – Pandora – Podbean – Tune In – iHeartRadio – PlayerFM – Listen Notes

Show Notes

Mark Richardson is the Life Pastor at San Diego Rock Church, where he has served for 15 years. Rock Church has over 500 small groups and saw their groups increase by 211% in 2020. Prior to the Rock Church, Mark served as a board member and executive director at the Jireh Ministries Foundation and was an intern with the Christian Embassy to the United Nations. He holds a MA in Pastoral Studies from Azusa Pacific and an MBA from Point Loma.

Featured Resource

Well, 2021 hasn’t quite turned out the way that we thought it would. It’s not 2020, but it’s also not 2019. The world has changed. Our people have changed. Hybrid life seems here to stay. People are craving community. Keeping certain things virtual. And being pickier overall about how they spend their time. How do we move forward with small groups in 2021? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not by moving backward. That’s why I am offering the 2021 Small Group Reset: 5 Days to Reframe Your Ministry. This FREE On Demand Video Resource will help you navigate the changing culture within your church. Sign up at allenwhite.org/reset and start now. Fall 2021 looks to be the largest group launch opportunity you’ve ever seen. Let me guide you in getting prepared.

Related Resources

Mark mentions Jay Kranda from Episode 2

Mark was part of the Small Group Ministry Coaching Group in 2020.

Episode 5: Monica Lee from Radiant Church on Disciple-Making in Small Groups

Episode 5: Monica Lee from Radiant Church on Disciple-Making in Small Groups

This Podcast is available on: Apple Podcasts – Google Play – Spotify – Amazon Music/Audible – Pandora – Podbean – Tune In – iHeartRadio – PlayerFM – Listen Notes

Show Notes

Monica Lee is the Community & Discipleship Pastor at Radiant Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Radiant Church, led by Senior Pastor, Lee M. Cummings, is a multi-site church and is the parent of the Radiant Network of Churches.

Monica began her career in corporate America before transitioning into ministry staff. She is a life-long Michigander, and she loves to spend time with Matt, her husband of 19 years, and their two teenage children: Gavin and Taylor. Together, they share a love for family time, travel, and adventure!

Featured Resource

Well, 2021 hasn’t quite turned out the way that we thought it would. It’s not 2020, but it’s also not 2019. The world has changed. Our people have changed. Hybrid life seems here to stay. People are craving community. Keeping certain things virtual. And being pickier overall about how they spend their time. How do we move forward with small groups in 2021? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not by moving backward. That’s why I am offering the 2021 Small Group Reset: 5 Days to Reframe Your Ministry. This FREE On Demand Video Resource will help you navigate the changing culture within your church. Sign up at allenwhite.org/reset and start now. Fall 2021 looks to be the largest group launch opportunity you’ve ever seen. Let me guide you in getting prepared.

Radiant Church Links

Radiant Network of Churches

Arise Shine Conference

Radiant School of Ministry

Episode 4: Elliot Diaz from Manna Church on Church Multiplication at Every Level

Episode 4: Elliot Diaz from Manna Church on Church Multiplication at Every Level

This Podcast is available on: Apple Podcasts – Google Play – Spotify – Amazon Music/Audible – Pandora – Podbean – Tune In – iHeartRadio – PlayerFM – Listen Notes

Show Notes

Elliot Diaz has served at Manna Church, Fayetteville/ Fort Bragg since March 2013. He has served as the Small Groups Pastor, and is currently the Site Pastor of the Cliffdale Site and is a member of the Lead Team. Manna Church is a multi-site church of over 2800 people in weekly attendance led by Senior Pastor, Michael Fletcher. Elliot is a 19 year Army veteran, who currently serves as a Chaplain in the North Carolina National Guard.

Manna Church’s Multiply Conference

Analysis of the Free Market Small Groups Model by Mark Howell

Lifegiving Marriage Study

The Kingdom Study

Allen White’s Small Group Ministry Coaching Group

Curriculum Production by Allen White Consulting

Case Study: Hoboken Grace Church – From Stuck to Over 90% Connected in Groups

Case Study: Hoboken Grace Church – From Stuck to Over 90% Connected in Groups

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.

Case Study: Connect Church, Lawrence, Kansas

Case Study: Connect Church, Lawrence, Kansas

Connect Church is an 83-year-old Wesleyan Church of 400 adults in Lawrence, Kansas. In recent years, they’ve started groups through church-wide campaigns for the first time and knew they would need help to support the group leaders with coaches.

Photo by the Lawrence Journal-World.

“Before we didn’t have any kind of a coaching structure,” said Elizabeth Scheib, Connections and Communication Director. “I was caring for all of the leaders and not doing a very good job of it. I also tend to be a control freak. I wanted to control a lot of the processes and the things the leaders went through. But, we were stuck. We had plateaued.” The church at the time had an adult attendance of 350 with 165 people connected in 16 small groups. “It wasn’t impossible to coach 16 groups. It just wasn’t effective because the whole thing in coaching is about relationships.”

As the church began to embrace the Exponential Groups strategy of creating their own curriculum and making the Lead Pastor the spokesperson for groups, they knew many people would respond to host a group. They also knew these new hosts would need help. “If the host came out of a group, then their former group leader naturally became their coach since there was already a connection.” But many more people were about to host a group for the first time as well.

The established small group leaders were already in the practice of joining Elizabeth for a huddle twice a year prior to the two annual group launches. “I explained at the huddle that we wanted to grow our groups, so we were adding a layer to our structure called coaches. I asked them, if they had a heart to come alongside a new host and help them get off to a great start, we needed their help. Then, I explained the responsibilities and gave them a starter kit that included a coaching description and a coaching timeline.” Their leaders responded.

One new host almost immediately got cold feet after she had volunteered to start a group. “We asked those who wanted to host a group to come down to the front of the sanctuary after the worship service. We gave them the information about starting a group and matched them up with a coach.”

In this case, a woman had talked herself out of hosting a group by the time she had left the sanctuary. “I can’t do it,” she said. “My husband is an introvert, and he never wanted to do it, but I felt like we should.” Elizabeth encouraged the woman to give the group a chance. Her husband could be the “kitchen guy and hang back where the introverts hang out.” She could lead the discussion. Elizabeth also encouraged her to talk to her coach.

When the coach called her, they talked for an hour. “It was laborious, but the coach was so gracious and had such a heart for this couple.” They ended up leading a successful group for the eight-week commitment and even added a potluck each week so the husband had a valued role. “It would not have worked if they did not have constant encouragement and prayer from the coach.”

Another couple decided to host a group. They were extremely gifted and had considerable experience leading groups. In fact, they were involved in campus ministries at local colleges. But, they still needed a coach to serve and support them, not in skills training, but in their own journey as believers. “They knew how to lead a group. There were not foreigners to this. But, I also knew that if I was going to make the coaching structure work, I couldn’t give them a pass. I couldn’t be their coach. I knew from being in a women’s group with the wife that they were going through some stuff.” The couple was matched with another couple who coached them. “I assigned them to coaches I knew would be able to really establish a deep spiritual relationship with them.” Not long after the assignment, Elizabeth discovered the coaches had already called them, and they had gone to coffee together. They didn’t need someone to tell them how to lead a group discussion. But they did need some prayer, encouragement, and friendship. They didn’t follow everything in the coaching timeline, but they received the coaching they needed.

By recruiting experienced leaders to coach new hosts, Elizabeth discovered the church could provide the care the leaders needed, and she could provide the overall guidance for how the leaders were coached. By loosening the reins on coaching, the groups at Connect Church became unstuck. They went from plateaued to thriving.

To learn how to build a coaching structure in your church, we recommend the Coaching Exponential Groups course and the Small Group Ministry Coaching Group.

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