An ill timed launch is nearly as bad as no small group launch at all. You probably launch groups along with everything else in the fall and in the New Year. Those are great windows to launch groups, so what’s the problem?
In most churches, the senior pastor wants to kick off a big fall series as soon as everyone has settled back into church. The pastor will give a “State of the Church” message right after New Year’s Day, then launches into a major sermon series. If these sermon series are aligned with a small group study, then when do you recruit group leaders? And, when do you form groups? Before everybody gets back?
How Does This Work?
Let’s say that everyone is back onsite in the fall around mid-August. This will vary from church to church by a few weeks either way. If your pastor plans a big fall kick off with a sermon series starting in mid-August, you have to recruit leaders and attempt to form groups in July and early August. For most churches that means you are trying to recruit leaders when many of your people are on vacation.
The same goes for the New Year. If your series begins in early to mid-January, then you are recruiting group leaders and forming groups in December. But just in case you haven’t discovered this: nothing happens in December expect for Christmas.
Attempting to recruit leaders in the middle of summer or in December is completely futile. (Okay, maybe you recruited a couple of leaders once, but for the most part it’s futile.) You have to recruit leaders and form groups when your people are actually back. What does this mean?
If your people are back in church physically and mentally in mid-August, then start recruiting group leaders in mid-August. But, what happens to your senior pastor’s fall kick off? Your pastor can still launch the fall with a great sermon series, but wait to align your small group study with the NEXT sermon series (provided your pastor doesn’t do 20-week sermon series). You recruit group leaders in mid- to late August. You form groups in early September. You launch groups with a sermon-aligned study in mid-September.
Here’s a Great Result
One church in my Small Group Ministry Coaching Group made this adjustment and went from 30% of their adults in groups to 42% in groups just by launching with the next series instead of launching with the kick off series. At our church in California, our people weren’t back until after Labor Day. We recruited group leaders in September. Our Connection event to join groups was in early October. We launched our six-week aligned series on the second Sunday in October with it finishing just before Thanksgiving. Our next study started in late January or early February. The groups focused more on group life between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
But, What About Semester-Long Studies?
And, this strategy relieves another problem for you: every group and every ministry wants to launch all at once. By delaying your aligned series launch for a few weeks, people can sign up for Financial Peace, Rooted, or a Beth Moore study first, then you can recruit the remainder of folks to lead or join series-based groups. After all, a group is a group is a group. As long as they’re doing something intentional about their spiritual growth, does it matter what type of group they’re in? Everyone certainly doesn’t need to do the same thing.
Think About This
Recruiting leaders takes a lot of time and effort. By adjusting your alignment schedule, you put in the same amount of effort, but you get a better result simply by changing the timing. As long as your fall series ends by Thanksgiving and your New Year series ends by Easter, you’re in really good shape.
What does your fall church calendar look like? How can you make this adjustment to maximize your recruiting?
If you need a little help working through this issue, try Burst Coaching. You get three private coaching session plus an additional resource for only $197. For more information, click here.
Easter 2022 is an interesting moment. With most of the country easing their COVID restrictions, will people feel free to worship in-person for Easter? Or have two years worth of people watching online sunk in deep? And, considering these mixed feelings going into Easter, how big should the Easter 2022 group launch be? Or should there even be one? Let’s work this out.
Easter is Normally the #3 Group Launch of the Year
Easter is the Trip, Tracy, Trace of group launches. The biggest group launch by far is the fall launch in most places. The second biggest is the New Year. The third is Easter. Now, there are reasons not to launch groups after Easter, but Easter is also the biggest Sunday of the year. Easter is when everybody who calls your church “my church” will be there along with a handful of visitors. Why would you ignore the biggest Sunday of the year when it comes to launching groups? If everybody is there, wouldn’t it be a good idea to start something?
Easter 2022 Is Still Not Normal
Just when we thought that COVID had disappeared, we must acknowledge that COVID has still made everything weird. Pastors in states that just removed their mask mandates are saying that people who were comfortable attending with a mask are now staying home. Maskless worship seems a little too risky for some right now. They’ll be back, but not for a while.
Some people have become comfortable worshipping at home. While I’m a big proponent of digital discipleship, why isn’t the in-person service drawing them in? Why do people feel they don’t need the community of an in-person service? Will they come for Easter or will they stay home?
You may get some first time guests who are not “first time guests.” They’ve never been to your church. They’ve been watching online for a while. Since Easter is a big deal, this just might be the first time they decide to attend in-person. But, here’s the deal, when they show up, they are not technically first time guests. Some have been with you for quite a while. When they show up, they are ready for a next step. They are ready for a small group. They are ready to start growth track. You have to offer them something.
But, there’s another dynamic at play. Similar to the Roaring 20’s that followed the Spanish Influenza, after Easter people will be gone. They have been cooped up too long. The weather is getting warmer. AirBnB is calling. Soccer is kicking off. Baseball is in full swing. Track is…okay, I’ll stop. People are ready to get out. According to the Gauge Group, people will be traveling widely and just won’t be around. So, what does all of this mean for your spring group launch?
Plan an Easter Group Launch, but Lower Your Expectations
As I said before, traditionally an Easter launch is the smallest of the year. But, this Easter you will have some dedicated online worshippers showing up for the first time looking for a next step. Offer them a group. And, while many people will be headed out to enjoy the warm weather, not everyone will be on vacation from Easter until Labor Day. Offer them something too. Even if your groups focus more on group life than group meetings, it’s still worth offering something. But, keep your expectations low. Your Easter launch will not be as far up and to the right as you’d prefer. And, that’s okay. Any progress is progress these days.
Plan for the Fall Small Group Boom
Depending on where you live, your people have experienced various levels of restrictions, freedoms, and fears related to COVID. Some churches are seeing worship attendance equal to or even exceeding their pre-COVID numbers. Most churches are sitting around 50% in worship. Some churches have dramatically declined. COVID accelerated much of what was unfortunately inevitable for some.
A year ago, I predicted a Small Group Boom. Now, I will admit that I predicted it a year too soon. Our boom went bust with the appearance of the Delta and Omicron variants. But now, it’s game on! I anticipate that once COVID restrictions have finally disappeared, and people have had their time in the sun, the fall 2022 small group launch will be bigger than ever. People will be ready to get together. They’re ready to get back into community, but not just in any way.
The pandemic has made everyone a little pickier about how they spend their time and who they spend time with. New and online folks who just want a next step into groups won’t have as much of an opinion of whose group to join. They just want a spiritual next step. But, people who’ve been around don’t just want to be thrown into any group. By offering flexibility, allow your people to meet with whoever they want, whenever they want, and however they want. Groups can meet online or in-person, on-campus or off-campus – let your people choose the place. Then, let your people gather their people. After all, everyone is already in a group!
Think About This
Did I just talk out of both sides of my mouth? Probably, but purposefully. Any group launch that connects more people into groups and offers a spiritual next step is significant, even if it’s only a handful of groups. Offer something after Easter, but don’t pull out all of the stops on your group launch until fall. For now, make offerings, not demands. Post-Easter groups are available to everyone who is interested and available, but certainly not mandatory. Encourage groups to gather for fun, to serve together, and to gather prospective members socially over the spring and summer. Then, plan for the biggest fall group launch you’ve ever had.
Back in the good old days, the school year started after Labor Day and ended before Memorial Day as God intended. Lately, however, school districts have gotten creative with school calendars. Some schools take a week or two off every six weeks now – all year ‘round. While I’m sure there is a lot of reason and research that have gone into creating these optimal learning environments, I feel for those missing the lazy days of summer, but I especially feel for you as you plan your small group launches.
If you would prefer to LISTEN to this blog, click here.
Good News: Old Calendar Habits are Hard to Break
Even in areas where the school calendar looks a lot like the annual calendar, the traditional school calendar is well embedded into the hearts and minds of most adults. Look at the workplace. Most people take vacation during the summer months and little gets done the last two weeks of the year. It’s just like the good old days when we had summer vacation and Christmas break. In a way this is good news.
My wife taught in the California public schools. At one school there were 900 students on a campus built to accommodate 300 students. They added as many portables as possible, but it was impossible to have the entire student body on campus at the same time. So, students were divided into four tracks. Each track took a month off every fourth month. This way only 75% of the students were on-campus at any one time. But, here’s the thing – the most popular vacation months were May, June, July, and August. While families could have gone on vacation during either of the other two months their children were out of school, vacations happened during the summer months. Old habits die hard.
If your small group launch is faced with a new or changing school calendar, don’t fear. Your people are still conditioned by the traditional school calendar. Most people won’t go on vacation every six weeks. Most people can’t afford it. Vacations by and large will occur during the summer months. There might be a trip to Branson in October or a skiing trip in the winter, but most people will be around.
Your Groups Can Flex
Often the fear is that if you launch groups, then there’s a “fall break” two weeks into the aligned series or semester, then your groups will fall apart. This is not true. Breaks that occur after a series or semester launches are not a problem for most groups. But, you want to avoid breaks while you’re gearing up for a launch.
In most cases, the best times to launch groups are in the fall, the New Year, and after Easter. These are normal seasons of the year for folks to start things. People are still driven by seasons regardless of what the school calendar dictates.
In South Carolina where our family lived for 14 years, many South Carolinians went on vacation either the week before or after the 4th of July. This tradition went back more than a century. Back in the day, the textile mills closed for two weeks on either side of Independence Day. That’s when everyone took vacation. Now, generations later, many people still vacation during those two weeks because that’s what their families have always done. Recent calendar changes won’t disrupt decades-long traditions.
First, if you live in Canada, forget what I just said. Plan for your groups to start AFTER your Thanksgiving and lead up to the Christmas season.
Next, respect the traditions and culture of your neck of the woods. Churches in the Northwest plan for big small group launches in January to June. That’s when groups run. What about the fall? Well, since people aren’t back until around Halloween, there’s just not much there. Inland Maine churches don’t plan groups during January and February due to winter weather. (After all, they live north of most of Canada’s population!)
Learn the patterns people follow. Whether you make adjustments for cold weather, hot weather, or hunting season, don’t fight these rhythms. The fight for off season groups is simply not worth the result. Besides often after people have a break for group life, the next group launch is even stronger.
Protect the Month Leading Up to a Launch
The key to any successful small group launch is the month leading up to the launch. You want to wait until your people are “back” from summer vacation, Christmas vacation, or wherever else they’ve been. If you’re big kick off weekend is the first weekend everyone is back, then you’re going to have a difficult time recruiting leaders and connecting people into groups. Let’s say you’re people are back around mid-August. You want to plan for a group launch around mid-September. If your groups and series launch in mid-August, well, you’ve left a lot of cards on the table.
The same is true for the New Year’s launch. You can’t recruit new leaders and connect people into groups during the Christmas season. It simply does not work. This means your aligned series or small group semester can’t start in January. That’s okay. Maybe your series should run between the Christian holidays of Super Bowl Sunday and Easter. Use the month of January to recruit.
You need plenty of runway to recruit new leaders and form groups. During the month preceding a launch eliminate as many competing values as possible – no other announcements, no guest speakers, just groups, groups, and more groups. Avoid the random weeks off from school. It’s okay if your fall break occurs during your series – that won’t hurt you. But, avoid a week off during your ramp up to the group launch. That disruption will dampen momentum for your launch.
Think About This
Old habits die hard. Of course, the disruption of the Coronavirus pandemic has caused many to change course. They worship at home. They’re choosier about who they spend time with and how they spend their time. Things aren’t snapping back quickly. But, in this new normal, there is still underlying traditions and seasons. Get to understand the currents of your local calendar and follow that when you plan your small group launches.
How does your church navigate school calendars? Leave your comment below.