Digital Thinking by Phil Cooke [Guest Post]

Digital Thinking by Phil Cooke [Guest Post]

“The digital revolution is far more significant than the invention of writing or even of printing.”
—Douglas Engelbart

It’s no secret that reaching a congregation, community, or media audience in today’s distracted and disrupted world is a real challenge. Although we have more channels for reaching them than ever before, those very channels slice up the audience, making it more difficult than ever to actually connect.

Phil Cooke is a filmmaker, media consultant, and founder of Cooke Media Group.

It all starts with strategy, which is the art of discovering what sets you apart and who would care most about your message, cause, or story. Today it takes more than someone with a video camera, a social media director, or a graphic designer to communicate your message. Before any of those team members start working, it’s critical to find the answer to “why,” and that is a leader’s job.

It’s been said that any soldier can take the hill, but a leader knows which hill to take and why it needs to be taken in the first place. Far too many churches allow the big picture decision making to be made by other members of the staff. In a large church or ministry with an experienced, high level communication or media team, that can be a good thing, but with less experienced members it could be a disaster. And in either case, it should never happen without the input and insight from the pastor or ministry leader.

The Big Picture Matters

Whatever you do in media—build a website, produce a video, launch a marketing campaign, publish a book, or whatever—understand that each of those elements are part of a much bigger story and strategy. In today’s distracted world, where people are being overwhelmed with communication and media messages, anything you create has to be part of a bigger, multi-platform strategy to maximize those opportunities.

Talented video, social media, and communication teams with brilliant ideas are a great start, but until they understand the bigger strategy of how to reach your audience, you’ll never make an impact. It’s been said that if you want to know which road to take, it helps to first know where you’re going.

Think Before You Produce.

Ask the “why” before you explore the “how.”

Then, once we define your why, we bring that to life with messaging— clarifying exactly what your message or story should be at this moment. Oddly enough, most of our clients try to communicate too much—largely because they’re thinking of themselves, and not the audience they want to reach.

In a cluttered world, simplicity and clarity are what get people’s attention.

Certainly many organizations and visionary leaders have much to share, but in today’s hypercompetitive world, most people respond to too much information by shutting down and turning off. So it’s essential that we streamline the message and focus on what matters from the audience’s perspective.

Speaking of clutter, identity development is a key step in our process since “perception” is so important in a distracted world. We’ll discuss branding and positioning in a later section, but it’s important to know how sensitive perceptions are in a distracted world. Positioning is essential to help your message rise above the noise because it focuses on what your audience thinks, what they need, and how you fit into their lives. This goes beyond your brand and is often overlooked by many organizations.

Finally, deciding how to share your ministry or organization’s message is vital, via social media, short video production, broadcast radio or TV, movie, live events, blogging, podcasting, live streaming and more.

It’s not how you want to reach them, it’s how they want to reach you.

There’s no point in creating the best podcast ever produced if your audience is somewhere else. That’s why finding the right platforms are so important for connecting with your audience.

These steps aren’t designed to overwhelm you or make you think that engaging media is too complex or difficult. My purpose is to remind you that a high school kid with a video camera isn’t enough. A talented graphic designer isn’t enough. Even a well-intentioned communication director isn’t enough—if you haven’t spent time thinking about the bigger picture.

These days, a great number of leaders and teams recognize the power of media, but don’t understand the best way to leverage that power. There was a time when sharing a message meant standing on a soapbox and talking to people passing by, preaching in a pulpit, or printing a book or newspaper. But today with an almost endless number of media options, making the right decision about the what, when, where, how, and why of your message can be the difference between success and failure.

The stakes are high, and your message matters. Choose carefully.

To hear more from Phil Cooke, register for the Digital Ministry Webinar on Thursday, October 1, 2020 at 2 pm ET.

Phil Cooke has produced TV and film programming in more than 60 countries around the world, and in the process, been shot at, survived two military coups, fallen out of a helicopter, and in Africa, been threatened with prison. And during that time – through his company Cooke Media Group in Los Angeles, California – he’s helped some of the largest Christian and nonprofit organizations in the world use the media to tell their story in a changing, disrupted culture. This post is an excerpt from Maximize Your Influence: How to Make Digital Media Work for Your Church, Your Ministry, and You by Phil Cooke (Burbank CA: Cooke Media Group, 2020, pages 19-22). All of the proceeds from this book go to The Innovation Lab.

The Dreaded Question – Where Did They Go?

The Dreaded Question – Where Did They Go?

Your members are not watching your online services. Well, at least not all of them are. According to a recent survey by the Barna Group, in the past four weeks, churchgoers have:

Streamed My Regular Church Online: 40%

Streamed a Different Church Online: 23%

Neither: 48%*

Where did they go?

A pastor friend of mine told me last week that he just discovered that two core, committed families had left their church – 5 months ago! He just found out. Their senior pastor had taken a stand that they disagreed with, so they “left” the church. No one knew because churches in their state have not been allowed to meet in-person for worship since March 2020. These members didn’t need to move to the church down the street. They just changed the channel.

Mark Batterson and National Community Church have perfected online worship services.

Most churches who are regathering for worship are only seeing about 30% of their attendance from 12 months ago. Most are continuing to see high levels of streams for their online services, but every pastor has to admit that there are a fair number of people in the “Neither” category.

While I believe this season presents a great opportunity for the church to reach people far from God, the church also has to change how they serve in this season. Most pastors have counted on the sermon and the weekend service to accomplish far more than it’s capable of doing. [LINK] As Andy Couch said, the church should keep the Who and Why, but change the What and How.** Here are the key areas to lean into in this season:

Create an Interactive Worship Experience

Just because it’s online doesn’t mean people are really watching. Three of our four children are doing online school this year. Our oldest graduated from high school this year. (What a bummer of a year to graduate, right?) Our daughter attends a charter school with about half the students in the physical classroom and the other half watching the stream of the class at home. She has to have her camera on. She has to wear her school uniform. She has to do her assignments. Mostly she sits bored in front of a Chromebook all day, but as she says, “It’s just like going to school in person except I have a more comfortable chair.”

Our two sons attend a completely online school. The classes are intended for an online-only classroom. They interact with their teachers. The lessons are taught for the small screen. While school is still school and still boring, our sons’ school does a much better job of keeping them engaged than our daughter’s streaming school.

Now, do you see your church’s online worship services in that example? Are you streaming the in-person service or are you creating an online experience? There’s a difference. Here’s an example. Morningside Baptist Church in Columbus, Georgia was a legacy church of about 400 members pre-COVID. When their services went online, their online attendance jumped to 800 views overnight. While the church has started to regather on Sunday morning, only about 120 people are attending in-person, but another 1,600 are viewing online. But, the innovation I would like for you to see is what they are doing with their midweek service called The Living Room.

The pastor and two of the staff appear on a living room set that they built. They bring in a guest via Skype and then take questions from Facebook and Instagram DURING the service. It’s a digitally, interactive service. Now, The Living Room is a work in progress, but it’s developing into something very interesting. Check it out (They’ll be thrilled with the views!).

There are better preachers online. There are more interesting services online. What is unique about what you are putting online? How do you build a relationship with your online audience? How do you KEEP a relationship with your members? Eventually your church will regather if it hasn’t already, but what is your responsibility to your online congregation?

Don’t Leave Kids Behind

Church online is great for adults, but it’s a bummer for kids. It’s like we’ve gone back 50 years when there was only a nursery on Sunday morning and no children’s church. As my wife and I have been watching church online for 26 weeks now, our kids are not interested. Our 7-year-old will join us for the singing, but exits when the preaching starts. But, kids engage online just not with the same things as adults.

My 7-year-old is a loyal viewer of Ryan’s Toys Review and the Izzy’s on Youtube. It’s almost like they’ve become part of the family. While we limit his viewing, their Youtube shows have sparked his creativity in building intricate Thomas the Train tracks, unique Lego projects, and his own DIY set pieces for these creations. He can’t get enough of it. Recently, he got hooked on new Youtube videos – Saddleback Kids (Early Childhood and Elementary). Taking cues from these other Youtube sensations, Saddleback has entered my 7-year-old’s world, and he loves it!

Connect Them into Groups

Your Fall 2020 Small Group Launch could be the MOST IMPORTANT LAUNCH you’ve ever had. (YES! I’M YELLING.) As far as fall group launches go, it’s a bummer. Many people are tired of Zoom. (There are other ways to meet online). Many people are not showing up to the online groups they joined. (There are better ways to get them there). People, including small group pastors, are ready for things to get back to normal, but normal may not be here for a while.

Churches can pivot toward digitally, interactive worship services, but if your people are not connected to each other, they have fewer reasons to stay loyal to your church. People need biblical content, but they also need conversation.

Resist the temptation to write your Fall 2020 launch up as a loss. There are new online followers who need a group. There are faithful members who need community and conversation amid the pandemic. Your calling and your mission did not stop because there’s a pandemic. The church has been through far worse and thrived.

Check Your Giving Records

I don’t want to sound crass, but I hope someone on your team has compared the current individual giving records with those from a year ago. Since pastors can’t count noses, you can still count nickels. This isn’t about money. This is about your people. If your people have stopped giving, it’s probably for one of a handful of reasons:

  1. They are no longer financially committed because they left your church. You’d better find out why.
  2. They no longer see the perceived value of giving to your church. You’d better talk about how your church is serving the less fortunate in your community and how many you’re reaching.
  3. They have experienced a significant drop in income or a job loss. How can you help them?

I really don’t even like suggesting this, but how else do you know who’s still around? This leads to the last point.

Get on the Phone

Whether your staff is five or 500, every staff member should be on the phone with a dozen or more church members EVERY DAY. (I also think every staff member should be leading a small group. After all, what else are they doing right now? They’ve got time on their hands.) In one very large church I’m working with, the staff members were tasked with making 160 calls per day! Why?

People need to know their church cares about them. The call isn’t to ask why they stopped giving or serving, but it could certainly be triggered by that information. The call is to see how they are doing. The call is to offer help. The call is to offer connection.

Smaller churches have the advantage. The average church in America is 90 people. By calling three people per day, a pastor could connect with every member of the congregation over a 30 day period.

Call every giver. Call every core member. Call every leader. Call everyone who’s not attending in-person. Pick up the phone so your sheep can hear your voice!

Concluding Thoughts

The American Church is at the crossroads of opportunity and extinction. As David Kinnaman said, 1 in 5 churches will permanently close in the next 18 months. Some estimate there are 300,000 churches in the U.S. That means 60,000 churches will close! This isn’t “waiting until things get back to normal.” This is an emergency! How is your church connecting with your people?

If you are ready to up your game with digital ministry, I am hosting a webinar with Phil Cooke on Thursday, October 1 at 2 pm Eastern. Phil has a PhD in Theology and is an active media producer. He is saying some things about the church that you need to hear. Registration is limited. In fact, registration is not even set up yet, so if you’re interested email me at allen@allenwhite.org ASAP.

*The Original 2020 is History by Carey Nieuwhof
** This is a gem of a podcast with Andy Couch, Leading Beyond the Blizzard, from 3/20/20.

Big Ideas from the Online Groups Roundtable

Big Ideas from the Online Groups Roundtable

Regathering for worship services and for small groups is proving in many ways to be more difficult than going online was in the first place. I recently met with a gathering of small group pastors from across North America to talk about what they are facing in terms of government regulations, church directives, and individual willingness to gather in-person and online. Here are the big ideas from that conversation.

Let people use the platforms they are familiar with and invite people they already know.

Every online group doesn’t need to meet on Zoom. There are many other platforms to host live and asynchronous online groups meetings. By encouraging people to use platforms they are familiar with like Facebook Groups, Google Meets, or even Slack and group texts, they will feel more comfortable with the concept of online groups. If they will invite people they know to join the online groups, chances are more people will show up. There is a very real dynamic of people ghosting online small groups. If people form groups on the platforms they know with people they know, the rate of ghosting online groups goes way down. But, even better, online groups offer the opportunity to include people who are far from God spiritually and people who are far from the group leader geographically.

Let kids get back into school BEFORE you start groups.

School districts are all over the map with their approach to the 2020-2021 school year. Some schools are online only. Others are in-person only. And, other schools are alternating on-campus and online days. Some are even varying the approach to school depending on the latest Coronoavirus statistics. It’s confusing. In my house, our three students (elementary, middle school, and high school) are all doing online school in different schools! It’s been a learning curve. If you can delay your small group startup until after the dust settles with the start of school, you will be better off.

Encourage the senior pastor to promote online groups.

In the middle of the summer, in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of racial tensions and political chaos, Rock Church in San Diego started 119 new online book groups in July 2020. The senior pastor, Miles McPherson, invited people to gather their friends to discuss a relevant topic with an easy-to-use format to start groups. Mark Richardson, Small Group Pastor, lead the implementation of Pastor Miles’ invitation by offering training and support to these new group leaders as they launched their groups. You can read the full case study about Rock Church here.

Give groups guidelines for meeting in person, but let them make their own decisions about how to meet.

The church should offer some sort of written guidelines for regathering amid the pandemic. This helps people feel safer about meeting in-person, if they’re willing, and it covers any liability for the church. The bottom line is that the church shouldn’t dictate to the groups what to do. If they want to meet online, then meet online. If they want to meet in-person, then meet in-person. If they want to do both, or as someone have called these phygital groups (physical and digital), then do that. The main thing is for the group to be in agreement about what to do. For a group agreement exercise, click here.

Biggest Thought: “What COVID gave me was an excuse to multiply groups.”

This pastor’s town/state was limiting the size of in-person gatherings in homes. No more than eight non-family members could meet in a home, so every group became two groups! The idea of churches splitting, multiplying, or “birthing” is not a very popular idea in North America. As much as pastor try to use another word for “dividing,” with the way it feels, you might as well call it getting a small group divorce! The idea finds resistence in most groups. But, if the circumstance called for smaller groups, then rather than waiting until the whole group could meet together again, why not use this to multiply your groups? If you see this as an opportunity for every small group in your church to become two groups, wouldn’t you jump on that?

Concluding Thoughts

These are strange times for the church. Regathering for worship has been in fits and starts. Some churches who reopened in May 2020 are now reclosing in September 2020 due to new outbreaks of Coronavirus. But, the weekend worship service is only one dimension of the church. This is a time to decentralize, because the church has been forced to. But, it’s not the first time the church was forced to decentralize.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus told the disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (NIV). Do you know when the church became Jesus’ witnesses in Judea and Samaria? The initial fulfillment of Acts 1:8 is found in Acts 8:1, “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” The church didn’t enter Judea and Samaria because of a strategic plan or based on their vision and values statement. They were forced into their calling because of persecution. In 2020, the church was forced into a situation.

How are you going to make the most of this opportunity? Comment below.

For more information on online small groups, visit onlinegroups.US.

Streaming Video is NOT Church Online!

Streaming Video is NOT Church Online!

Church online is direct-to-camera. Church online is interactive. Church online is an intentional effort to disciple a growing online congregation. Streaming video is passive. With streaming video (live or recorded), the viewer is an observer, not a participant.

The church has got to get this right, because according to some estimates getting back to “normal” could take up to three to four years (if it ever does). From recent conversations with pastors, the average church has about 30% of their people attending in-person. But, there are far more people joining for worship online. In fact, most churches are seeing larger online attendance than their normal worship numbers. One pastor I spoke to yesterday said that a year ago, they had 550 in worship. Today, there are 200 worshipping in-person and over 1,600 worshipping online. How are churches discipling their online congregations?

Screenshots Courtesy of Morningside Baptist Church, Columbus, Georgia.

Church Online is NOT Merely Streaming an In-person Worship Service.

Online worship services require a tighter shot. The services are shorter. Sermons are more like 20-30 minutes than 45 minutes. The pastor needs to speak direct-to-camera because the sermon is going to the living room. There’s a big difference between speaking to a big room and speaking to a small screen. The church, in general, did a better job at church online before people started regathering for in-person services.

But, as people are coming back, even just a small percentage of the congregation, the temptation is to speak to the few that are gathered and ignore the online worshippers. This is both rightly and wrongly so. A pastor cannot ignore the people gathered in the room, but a pastor also cannot create a passive experience for the larger group who are watching at home.

This reminds me of a moment about 30-40 years ago when churches were transitioning from traditional worship services to contemporary worship services. Many churches could not immediately make the jump. After all, if you alienate the base, then the giving goes down, and the pastor gets fired. So, churches offered separate services for traditional worship and for contemporary worship. A few tried “blended” worship, but was Stuart Briscoe once said, “If you blend contemporary and traditional, you end up with contemptible!”

By streaming in-person worship services, you end up with contemptible. If you speak direct-to-camera and ignore those gathered in-person, your people will think that they’re watching a TV preacher. But, if you speak only to the room and ignore the online congregation, you’ll lose them. I believe it’s time for churches to adopt two worship styles: an in-person service and an online service. The in-person service isn’t streamed. It’s created specifically for the people in the room. The online service is created specifically for the online congregation. It’s direct-to-camera. It’s shorter. It’s more interactive. The online service moves people from observing to participating. Why do this? There are more people “out there” than there are “in here.” This will be the case for a long while.

Church Online Needs Next Steps

A year ago online ministry was just a novelty, but in 2020 online ministry became a necessity. For a few months, the church regarded online services as a band-aid until things returned to normal. Today, no one knows when normal will return or what normal even is. And, that’s okay, because there is a larger opportunity online. Just look at your metrics.

How are you connecting with your online congregation? What next steps are you offering them? Do you even know who they are? Every weekend, you need to welcome visitors. Every weekend you need to collect their information by email or text. Then, you need to challenge them in their next steps just like you would an in-person guest.

Put your membership class online. There are no more excuses for not being able to attend. When your membership class goes online, people have 168 hours per week to participate. Put your growth track online. Saddleback Church just put CLASS 101-401 online after doing it live and in-person for 40 years! (and as of 8/30/2020, Saddleback added 600 new members through online CLASS 101).

How are you capturing information? How are you offering next steps? Church online is no longer just a stop gap, it’s church.

Church Online Needs Small Groups

While content is great, people need conversation and community. Whether groups meet in-person or online, or whether groups are made up of your church members or people you’ve never met, there is an opportunity to serve. Don’t take sign-ups for online groups. People will ghost your online groups that way. Instead, invite people to meet with people they know on platforms they know. There are many ways for groups to meet online, you just need to give them opportunity and permission along with some training and support to get started. Give these new groups a copy of my book, Leading Online Small Groups, which helps groups get started and helps established groups go online.

Churches with online small groups in place are faring far better than churches without online groups. There is a lot to process. There is a lot of fear and confusion in the world. People need to gather with others who will listen, care for them, and point them back to God in a personal, individual way. Online groups can accomplish this for those who are not ready to meet in-person yet.

Church Online Needs Opportunities to Care and Serve

People need an outlet for ministry. The Coronavirus pandemic has forced people to mostly stay home and to venture out very little. This isolation is taking a toll on people’s mental health. It’s not good to be alone thinking only about yourself.

Years ago a prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Karl Menninger, was asked a question by an audience member at a conference, “If you knew someone was suicidal, what would you recommend for that person to do?”

They audience expected Dr. Menninger to recommend immediate and intense psycho-therapy. Instead, Dr. Menninger replied, “I would tell them to go over to the other side of the tracks and help someone in need.” It’s healthy to help others. It’s unhealthy to be overly focused on oneself. (If you or someone you know is suicidal: 1-800-273-8255).

There are many needs in our communities. People need food. Parents need childcare. People need to know that someone cares. Encourage your online audience to participate with the church in serving your community or to just find a need a fill it.

Early during the pandemic, I came up with a list of ways people could practice the “one anothers” of Scripture digitally. Smartphone usage is WAY up. Why not use your phone to encourage others? You’re on it anyway.

Church Online Needs Reasons to Give

In a recent interview with NPR, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, said, “I think also it’s really going to change the way people think about their donation relationship with local churches as well. There’ll have to be an even greater demonstration of the value that a church brings not just to those who attend but also those who are part of this community.”

While all of the things listed above will certainly add value to your online congregation, churches must show how they are helping the community. Where are these dollars going? After all, those who are worshipping at home aren’t receiving the benefit of the building or the staff. But, beyond this, people need teaching about giving. Generosity is a spiritual discipline. It’s a sign of spiritual maturity. As your people grow, they will also grow in giving.

Concluding Thoughts

The American church is in a precarious moment. “As many as one in five churches could permanently close as a result of shutdowns stemming from the coronavirus pandemic,” according to Kinnaman. “Obviously, there will be a lot more online attendance than ever before, even after all churches reopen. I think this digital church is here to stay.”

I see two camps in the church right now. There are those who’ve been hunkering down and waiting for Coronavirus to blow over so things can get back to normal. These are the churches that are in the most danger right now. Then, there are those churches who are embracing this disruption as an opportunity to meet the practical needs of people, re-evaluate their current ministries, reposition themselves for digital ministry, and embrace the opportunity of reaching a lost, hurting, and broken world online.

Which camp is your church in?

Click here to read the Christian Post article about David Kinnaman’s NPR interview.

For more information on church online and online small groups, visit onlinegroups.US.

How One Church Launched 119 New Online Groups in July 2020

How One Church Launched 119 New Online Groups in July 2020

This year has been just as crazy of a year for Rock Church in San Diego, CA as it has for everybody else. They have not conducted in-person services since March. Pastor Miles McPherson streams his message every Sunday morning to a growing online congregation. Then, in addition to quarantine, the US began to experience racial unrest to a high degree. Pastor Miles just so happens to be the author of The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation. Suddenly, he knew what his next sermon series would be. The church also decided to launch book groups to go along with the series. Even if your church isn’t a megachurch or your pastor has not written a book, the principles Rock Church used will help you launch more online and in-person groups. This is how they launched 119 new online groups in July:

The Senior Pastor Invited People to Join Groups.

Every week Pastor Miles invited people to start or join a new online small group during the online worship service. This invitation wasn’t relegated to the announcements or made by another staff member. Over the years, I’ve seen that when an associate pastor makes the invitation, the church gets about 30% of the result. In 30 years, of full time ministry, I’ve experienced the same. This is why a lot of churches get stuck with only 30% of their adults in groups. Pastor Miles gave the invitation, and he got a big response.

They Chose a Compelling Topic.

You want a topic that has a broad appeal to a large group of people. This is not the time to choose a mature topic like fasting or anything to do with money. There are times for those series. By choosing a topic on racial tensions and reconciliation, Rock Church was positioned well to start a maximum number of groups in the middle of the summer. Now, it helped that Pastor Miles was the author of a book on racial reconciliation, but your church could also start groups using Miles McPherson’s book or start groups with a weekly teaching video and discussion questions from your pastor. The more relevant the topic, the greater the appeal.

They Reframed the Invitation to Start a Group.

Rock Church did not start “small groups.” They started book clubs or book groups. Small groups already had a certain meaning in their church’s culture. Small groups implied high qualifications and a lot of training in advance. By inviting people to Book Clubs, they didn’t need a small group leader. They needed friends to discuss a book. Language defines culture. To change the culture of groups in your church, change the words you use.

They Gave Their People Permission and Opportunity.

People interested in starting book clubs simply invited people they knew who would be interested in the book. There was no lengthy sign-up process or website to build. People just leveraged their existing relationships to meet online and discuss a topic that was relevant to them at their pastor’s invitation. It doesn’t really need to be more complex than that. That’s how most of these got started.

Now Rock Church is a large church. Chances are that there were many people who wanted to join a book club, but didn’t feel they could start one and didn’t get invited. The opportunity was given to register to join a book club. About 600 people took them up on this offer. The risk comes when you assign prospective group members to book club “leaders” that the church doesn’t know well. Instead, the book clubs for those 600 are being led largely by the church staff. (The campuses are closed. Services are online. What else is the staff going to do….?).

They Gave New Leaders an Experienced Leader to Coach Them.

To prepare for this launch, Mark Richardson, the small groups pastor at Rock Church, began to recruit experienced group leaders to walk alongside these book group leaders during the series. With the pandemic everything is decentralized. They didn’t have the ability for large training meetings, so they delivered the training through experienced leaders who can support and encourage these new leaders and answer their questions as they come.

Concluding Thoughts

If you can get these five keys in place, you will see a big result: Senior Pastor’s invitation, relevant topic, reframe the invitation, give permission and opportunity, and give the help of a coach. It’s not as difficult or complex as you might think. In this past year, Mark Richardson and Rock Church were prepared through my small group ministry coaching group. When we started the year, none of us knew what this year would hold. In January, Mark didn’t know he would be starting book clubs in July. But, by being ready to try something new and having coaches standing by, when Pastor Miles decided on The Third Option series, Mark was ready. Their people and their groups have benefitted greatly.

If you are interested in a 2021 Small Group Ministry Coaching Group, we’d love to have you. Click here for more information.

For more information on church online and online small groups, visit onlinegroups.US.

Why Write Your Own Small Group Curriculum?

With so much curriculum available from so many great authors, why would anyone undertake to write curriculum for their church. While you may not achieve the production levels of some professionally produced curriculum out there, unless the speaker or teacher is very well known, chances are you’ll have to introduce them to your people anyway. But, when you create curriculum with your pastor and your teaching team, your people will become very excited about getting more of what they already like – your pastors’ teaching!

Why Write Your Own Small Group Curriculum? (3:53)

I’ve written a lot of small group curriculum over the years. Just to show you that I know what I’m talking about, I’ve created curriculum for Chip Ingram, Doug Fields, John Ortberg, and even Rick Warren. (Now, all of these guys might not have known that I was writing for them, but I did). Starting from our home-grown campaigns for our church in California to writing a weekly sermon discussion guide for our church in South Carolina to creating video-based studies for churches across the country, I’ve found that writing your own curriculum gives you some great advantages.

Write from Your Church’s Doctrine and Teaching.

While there’s a lot of great curriculum out there, some of it comes from a very different doctrinal perspective. While Calvinists and Arminians might agree on a few things, once they start debating doctrine, they just might end up losing their salvation! Pentecostals and Fundamentalists will struggle with each others’ teaching. While you can use curriculum based on a different doctrinal viewpoint, you’ll spend a lot of time explaining away things that don’t fully agree with your beliefs. Rather than working around doctrinal issues in curriculum, when you write your own curriculum, you create resources that teach what your church believes.

Reflect Your Church’s Vision and Values.

Every church is unique. You have a unique culture. So many factors come into play in the makeup of any church: region, ethnicity, age, history, personality, vision, values, passion, and so many other things. Your church is not like the church across the street let alone a church across the country.

Your curriculum can reflect your church’s uniqueness. You can write about what your church values in your curriculum. You can reinforce your vision statement in the curriculum. You can base the objectives and application of your lesson on where you want to lead your church. You shouldn’t follow someone else’s vision. Write about your own.

Save Money.

Curriculum is expensive. I remember at my church when a new Beth Moore series was released, I’d have five or six groups requesting a copy. At about $200 a pop, I wasn’t buying six copies. I think I settled on two copies. They either took turns or shared.

Even in a scenario where group members pay for their own books, there are still costs for streaming video or DVDs (although DVDs are slipping away…finally). And, even with books, the church ends up paying for the leaders’ books and for group members who can’t afford a book (as they should). And, there are always overages. As much as a small group pastor tries to look into the crystal ball and accurately predict the exact number of books to order, you always order too many. This also takes from your budget. Oh, and did I mention this was only for one alignment series or one semester. There’s at least 30 weeks total to cover!

By creating your own curriculum, you can save a great deal of money. The most affordable and easiest way to distribute curriculum is by digital download. You just create a pdf of your lesson, then either upload it to your church’s website or email it to your leaders. There are no physical materials to distribute. You can even create a teaching video and put the link at the top of your pdf.

If you’d prefer printed books, then print-on-demand is a simple and affordable solution. Services like Kindle Direct Publishing or Ingram Spark allow you to print your books for about $2.25 each (120 page study guide with a color cover and black and white pages). Whether you order one book or a thousand, the price is the same. You do need to plan in advance and allow about 2-4 weeks for shipping and delivery.

Writing your own curriculum will definitely save you money.

Publish It Anywhere You Want.

When you write your own curriculum, you can post your curriculum online. You can email it to your group leaders. You can sell your books on Amazon. You can print your books on-demand. Since the curriculum is yours, you can do whatever you want with it. If you do this with somebody else’s curriculum, you’re breaking the law.

Writing your own curriculum gives you flexibility. You can offer the study to your groups for free, and then sell it to other churches. You can make your studies available online and suddenly serve the global church. They no longer need to wait three months for study guides to arrive by boat.

Writing your own curriculum gives you flexibility in distribution, a possible revenue stream, and it keeps you out of jail! Whether groups are meeting in-person or online, this alleviates the difficulty of distribution.

Writing Your Own Curriculum is Not Difficult.

Like anything else curriculum writing seems difficult before you’ve done it. Personally, I’m a self-taught curriculum writer (and I earn a living at it). Once you master the basics and put in the practice, you are well on your way to becoming a curriculum writer yourself. You can test your curriculum with focus groups in your church to get their feedback and improve your studies. You can find someone to edit and proofread your studies. You probably already know someone who can design your cover and layout you pages. (If you don’t, that’s not so hard either).

Are you ready to get started?

In fact, in my Writing Effective Curriculum Workshop, you will learn to write great questions, write sermon discussion guides, write complete study guides, and write to make disciples. Not only will I teach you how to write and organize your studies, I will give you assignments, then offer my feedback on your writing. This is not a course. This is a WORKshop. You have to work! If you’re ready to jump in, the Writing Effective Curriculum Workshop is enrolling now.

For more information on the Writing Effective Curriculum Workshop, Click Here.

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