Is Your Church’s Model Helping or Hurting Your Groups?

Is Your Church’s Model Helping or Hurting Your Groups?

In the last 30 years, three models have stood out: the Attractional Model, the Communal Model, and the Missional Model. These models were built by overemphasizing one of three important aspects of every church: Worship, Relationship, and Service. What your church focuses on will greatly determine the effectiveness and impact of small groups.

Over the last 30 years, the Attractional Model has reigned supreme. Worship services were designed as the entry point for the unchurched. Pastors offered relevant, felt-need sermons. Groups were an option, but not essential. While there are certainly exceptions like Saddleback Church and North Point Ministries, many attractional churches focused solely on the weekend and whatever staff, resources, and volunteers it took to pull off the weekend service.

The Communal or House Church Model focuses on relationship and personal growth over large group gatherings and worship services. The real work of making disciples is seen in the living rooms and coffee shops with believers pouring into each other. While disciples were making disciples, often churches in this movement succumbed to lack of a unifying vision.

The Missional or Incarnational Model focuses on living out what Jesus called believers to do. Serving takes priority over worship and relationship. The problem is that if emphasis is placed on what people do over what they are becoming, then a significant piece of the equation is missing.

This may be an exaggeration of each particular model, but I think we can all agree that the Attractional Model emphasizes worship over relationships and service. The Communal Model favors relationships over worship and service. And, the Missional Model leans strongly on service over worship and relationships. There is an imbalance to each model.

In the book, Intentional Churches (Thomas Nelson 2020) by Bart Rendel and Doug Parks break it down this way:

“[The Baby] Boomer said, ‘Hey, we can learn a lot from business and marketing principles and apply them to our church leadership. The prospective customer is most likely going to walk through the door on a weekend, so let’s place most of our resources there!’

“Gen Xer said, ‘You silly boomers! Bigger isn’t better. Closer is better. And customer? We need relationships and generational commiseration. Community is where it’s at, and the gathering is just a by-product of rich relationships and shared life, anyway.’

“Millennial said, ‘You lazy Xers and crazy boomers. If we took just half the money we put into a building and got off our rumps, we could do so much good in the world.’”

While groups can certainly thrive in the Communal Model, the other missing pieces eventually cause the movement to lose steam. While churches using the Attractional and Missional models can appreciate groups, the leading indicators in both models are worship attendance and service respectively. Groups are more of a lagging indicator.

While we can all agree that disciples are better made in circles than in rows, if groups are not connected to the larger body, they tend to lose focus and momentum. Sermons don’t make disciples, but sermons can start a conversation that will continue in groups, who will discuss and apply the topic from the worship service, then take action by setting goals for themselves, holding each other accountable, and serving together.

Most churches need realignment and balance to effectively serve in the coming years. The Attractional Model has lost its luster in many ways. The idea of a healthy, megachurch pastor is almost an oxymoron in some cases. As Baby Boomers are aging and Millennials are coming on strong, if pastors want to stay relevant, they must become “missionaries” to understand a new people and a new culture.

These models can work together. Worship services and events can inspire and call for commitment, but it’s just the first step. In order to truly impact people’s lives and catalyze lasting change, the first step must lead to a next step. The sermon should lead to a group discussion guide where the Truth of God’s Word can be worked out and applied to people’s lives. I would dare say that marriage conferences have created more problems in marriages than they’ve ever solved. By painting an idyllic picture of marriage, conference speakers often raise expectations which are not going to be achieved overnight. If you don’t believe me, just look back at the Promise Keepers movement. While there was great intention there, the lack of follow through caused Promise Keepers to quickly become promise breakers. But, if a marriage conference led to a commitment to improve marriages, which offered a next step into an on-going marriage group or class or counseling, then the event might have catalyzed some good instead of setting off a bomb.

Jesus summed up 613 commandments into just two of them: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The church has a mission to reach the world with God’s love. That mission starts with the neighbor next door. Mission must be tied to relationship. Church members love their neighbors and serve them. There’s a relationship there. After all, ministry is not something we do to people. While community-wide serve days can elevate a church’s brand and get their name in the paper, service divorced from relationship is missing something.

Groups must connect to the larger church body, serve together, and reach others to remain healthy. A small group is essentially the microcosm of the church. What the church is called to do, the group is called to do. But, where do groups fit into the whole?

If a church has a balance of attractional, communal, and missional, then groups make perfect sense. If the church is more attractional, then groups will help by connecting the congregation and keeping them motivated to attend, to serve, and to give. (See the Senior Pastors Guide to Groups). Groups and the communal model go hand in hand. If the church is based more on the missional model, then groups provide the teams and the relationships to accelerate ministry and outreach.

Which model does your church follow? How is that model helping or hindering groups in your church?

Webinar: Starting Leaderless Small Groups

Wednesday, November 20 at 1 pm ET/ Noon CT/ 11 am MT/ 10 am PT

Featuring Kent Odor, Executive Minister of Spiritual Nurture
at White Oak Christian Church, and Allen White, Church Consultant and friend of Kent Odor.

You will learn:

The Advantages of Leaderless Groups.

The Pitfalls of Leaderless Groups.

How to Support Leaderless Groups.

How to Plan for Leaders to Emerge.

Register Here

Leaderless Small Groups

Leaderless Small Groups

The number of groups any church can launch and maintain is limited by the number of leaders available. It’s simple. If you have a leader, you have a group. If you don’t have a leader, then no group. The problem is most churches can’t recruit all of the leaders they need to meet the demand for groups. The problem goes even further because most people don’t regard themselves as being any kind of a leader. Without more leaders, how do you launch more groups?

Problem #1: Not Everyone Qualifies as a Leader

Churches place various qualifications for leadership. They may require church membership, leader training, apprenticing in a group, a background check, an interview, or any number of qualifications to lead. For most churches the bar for leadership is set pretty high – as it should be.

In 1 Timothy 5:22, Paul instructs Timothy, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands.” Commissioning someone as a leader is a serious thing. In order to recognize someone as a leader in the church, they must have good character, and they must be proven as a leader. If you hand out the title to just anyone, then you dilute the meaning and authority of leaders in the church. But, this leads to the second problem.

Problem #2: Most People Don’t Consider Themselves to be Leaders

If they must be a leader to lead a group, then they must fulfill leadership requirements and receive leadership training before they can lead, but they aren’t leaders so why would they do that? My apologies for the run-on sentence, but it’s a legitimate question. How many times have you invited someone to lead a group only to be turned down with “I’m not a leader”?

Admitted non-leaders don’t get excited about meeting leadership requirements or taking leadership training. They’re not leaders. If they have to be a leader to lead a group, then it’s probably not going to happen.

What If You Don’t Need Leaders?

“We’re not recruiting elders here,” said Randal Alquist, Discipleship Pastor, Vertical Church, West Haven, CT. “We started giving people permission to jump in. We’re asking for people who love people and love God. We want people who are willing to facilitate a healthy environment where connections can happen.”

Think about this for a second – what did Jesus call us to do? He didn’t call us to make leaders. Jesus didn’t even call us to start small groups although He modeled it. Jesus called the church to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). What do you need to make a disciple? You need a disciple to make a disciple. How many disciples do you have?

By inviting disciples to make disciples in groups, you can help your people walk in obedience to the Great Commission. Rather than continuing to allow your people to borrow from your spirituality, you can give them an easy-to-use tool like a video-based curriculum and a coach to supervise them. They can live in obedience to Jesus by making disciples. They can prove themselves and learn to lead by doing. You can have more groups ASAP. And, eventually, these disciples can be recognized as leaders.

The bar for leadership should remain high. When you do church-wide campaigns, group launches, or alignment series, these are part of the leader recruitment process. These are not ordination events for new leaders. It’s a trial run to give them an opportunity to prove themselves as leaders. Once they’re ready, then you can commission them as leaders. As one of my leaders, Doug Howard told me, “Thank you, Pastor Allen, for showing me I was the leader I never knew I was.” I hope you hear that a lot!

For more tips on launching more groups, register for the Starting Leaderless Groups Webinar on Wednesday, November 20 at 1 pm ET/ Noon CT/ 11 am MT/ 10 am PT.

Learning by Doing in Groups

Learning by Doing in Groups

What does it mean to learn? Is it merely an acquisition of more facts?Or is it taking those facts and putting them into practice? Meetings are not the only place for groups to learn. Often lessons are learned better by doing.

At New Life Christian Center where I served in California, we challenged our groups to prepare and serve a hot meal every Friday night at an emergency homeless shelter which ran five months of the year. We asked for groups to volunteer together instead of individuals, because the positive peer pressure of the group would guarantee 10 out of 10 group members participating, whereas individual recruitment might have netted 4 or 5 out of 10.

Our groups took this project to heart. Even on the year when both Christmas Eve and New Years Eve were on a Friday, the signup sheet was completely filled up by our groups within an hour of placing it at our information center. My group didn’t even get a chance to sign up!

One group member told me he was very reluctant to participate. His attitude toward the homeless had always been “I started with nothing and pulled myself up by the bootstraps and built a successful construction company. Why couldn’t the homeless work hard and do the same.”

He was part of a small group of middle aged adults who had about 40 years of Sunday school under their belts. There wasn’t much of the Bible they hadn’t studied. Yet, all of this Bible study had done little to change this man’s attitude toward the poor.

He went with his group to serve the meal at the shelter. He later admitted that as he stood in line serving those men and looking them in the eye, he realized if circumstances had been different in his life, then he might be standing on the other side of that line receiving the meal.

Six months later, he was sending his construction crews over to San Francisco every Friday to renovate a building which would be used as a homeless shelter in the Tenderloin. Talk about a change of heart. Not only did he see the homeless differently, he was compelled to do something about it. Instead of his crews building multimillion dollar homes on Fridays, they were renovating a homeless shelter. The positive peer pressure of a small group serving together made a difference not only in his life, but in the lives of many homeless people he might never meet.

In making disciples, Jesus instructed us to “teach them to obey what I have commanded” (Matthew 28:20). In Matthew 25, Jesus tells His disciples, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). The words must lead to doing in order to make disciples in the way Jesus directed us. By simply inviting groups to serve together during the Christmas holidays or during Summer break, we can help them apply what they’ve learned and become more Christ-like in the process.

Introducing DIY Video Curriculum

Introducing DIY Video Curriculum

Today, we are introducing DIY video curriculum. Fifteen years ago I learned the power of video-based curriculum when our church doubled our groups in one day. After seven years of handpicking leaders and begging them to raise up an apprentice leader, our groups were stuck. My pastor was headed into a series that I quickly piggy-backed on to launch groups. We found a study guide on the topic, but there was no video component. We knew that if our pastor put the teaching on video, we could equip disciples to make disciples. 

Photo by Allen White

But, the reality is that every church does not have the capacity to turn out curriculum series after curriculum series as momentum builds for groups. DIY Video Curriculum takes the hard work out of producing curriculum. The study guides are written. The video scripts are written. Churches just need to shoot the video with their pastors. The level of production is entirely up to the church. Some churches shoot with an iPhone and upload the videos to YouTube. Other churches will shoot with multiple cameras, stream the videos, and create DVDs. The key is not the production. The key is your pastor.

Why Create Video Curriculum?

Peak Your Pastor’s Interest in Groups.

Several years ago, we were coaching a church’s team on how to create video-based curriculum. They spent a full day recording the pastor’s teaching, and planned to write a companion study guide for their groups. This was a lot of work, but they were committed. Then, something happened that surprised the team.

The day after the video shoot, the pastor pulled us into his office and said, “We’ve recorded these videos. We are writing this curriculum. How are we going to recruit leaders and connect people into groups?” Their discipleship pastor later confided that he had been trying to get his senior pastor interested in groups for two years and basically got no where. Now after a day of shooting video, their pastor was very interested. When pastors invest in creating resources, they will become the champion for small groups in the church.

Energize Your People’s Interest in Groups.

If church members are not connected to each other, the reason they attend a church, other than Jesus,  is because of the senior pastor. They like the pastor’s style. They laugh at the jokes. They like the pastor’s personality. Warning: Don’t mention this to your worship pastor. It will break his heart.

What we discovered in our church in California as well as churches we’ve coached across North America is when the congregation is offered exclusive video teaching from the pastor, they are getting more of what they already like. Members want to hear from their own pastor more than they want to hear from a nationally-known teacher. By offering the pastor’s video-based teaching, members have a great incentive to start groups and to join groups.

Empower Your People to Make Disciples.

When members are invited by their senior pastor to get together with their friends and do a study, they are more than willing to follow their pastor’s lead. Some churches we’ve coached have actually connected twice their worship attendance into groups. By offering an easy-to-use video-based curriculum, people who gather groups don’t need to be Bible experts. The pastor is the expert. (And, the church doesn’t have to worry about what the groups are teaching, because the church supplied the teaching). The video also reduces the amount of preparation time for the person leading the group meeting. People are busy. An easy-to-use curriculum will eliminate one more excuse for leading a group.

Why Don’t Churches Produce More of Their Own Curriculum?

Here are the short answers:

  1. Some pastors feel they must produce the next 40 Days of Purpose
  2. With the pastor preaching every week, there is no time to write scripts and create curriculum.
  3. Publisher-quality materials are time consuming to create.

How DIY Video Curriculum Can Help.

  1. The scripts are already written. The pastor just needs to personalize them.
  2. The books are already written and professionally designed.
  3. The videos can be shot all at once or a week at at time.

For more information on DIY Video Curriculum, Click Here.

Free ebook: The Senior Pastors Guide to Groups

Should a Senior Pastor be in a Group?

How Many Groups Should Your Church Have?

What are Successful Pastors Doing to Grow Their Groups?

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