Are Your Groups Competing with Each Other?

Are Your Groups Competing with Each Other?

Listen to this Blog Post instead on the Healthy Groups Podcast.

Some churches practice a simple church model. They offer just a few options to their congregations. These are churches like North Coast Church, Vista, CA led by Larry Osborne or Mariners Church led by Eric Geiger, who wrote the book Simple Church. They promote their weekend worship services, small groups, serving, local and global missions, but little else beyond that. Life seems simpler in a simple church. But your church might be more complicated, especially in a legacy church.

Once I served a church that was the polar opposite of a simple church. They prided themselves on being a complicated church that hoped to offer something for everybody. Promoting small groups was complex to say the least. If you promote everything equally, then nothing is a priority. (More here in my post: The Unfairness of Being Fair). After all, if everything is important, then nothing is important. But, we grew the groups in that church from 30% of 5,000 adults connected to 78% in the four years I served there. Here’s how we did it:

What is a Group at Your Church?

First, look at what you are calling a small group in your church. What is the group’s purpose? How often do they meet? What do they do? What is the group’s size? Things like that. (For a complete exercise on defining your groups, go to here).

Let’s say your groups meet a minimum of twice per month for the purpose of Bible application, community, and occasional serving projects. By defining a group in your church, you are also stating what a small group is not in your church. Think about all of the things you are offering your adults to see what might be competing with groups.

For instance, let’s say you have a men’s prayer breakfast that meets once per month. Is this a group? Having been to quite a few men’s prayer breakfasts over the years, I’ve discovered there is usually more breakfast than prayer. (The prayer is typically for the food). You might discover that the men who attend this breakfast regard this as their small group, yet by your definition this men’s breakfast doesn’t qualify as a group. It doesn’t have Bible application or occasional serving, but it has plenty of community. Also, it doesn’t meet often enough by your definition. In fact, once a month groups really don’t meet frequently enough to provide deep community. I call these groups a small group placebo. They give the feeling of being in a group but lack the benefits of being in a group.

But with your definition of groups, you are also opening up the possibilities for how many groups you actually have. Maybe you just don’t call them groups.

What Groups, Classes, Serve Teams, or Bible Studies Might Qualify as Groups?

Compare your definition with all of the “groups” in your church. Think of serving teams, Bible studies, small groups, classes, and whatever else you’ve got. Which qualify as a group by your definition? Which do not? Which could become a little more “groupish”?

Can on-campus groups, classes, Sunday school classes, or Bible studies be categorized as “groups”? This is not just an exercise in semantics. You need to consider all of the things in your church that help make disciples. Even the old fashioned options could be good options.

Avoid Competing with Yourself

I am working with a church that’s made a goal of connecting half of their adults into a certain type of off-campus groups. Upon further examination, we discovered that they have a lot of other options for their adults that would also fit the criteria for a group: women’s Bible studies, men’s Bible studies, in-depth Bible classes, and several others. In the current thinking, these other “groups” are competing with their goal of getting half of their people into off-campus groups.

In this situation, you can do one of two things: either cancel all of these other groups leading to a revolt or broaden your definition of groups. Stick with me here. This isn’t just for the sake of numbers and bragging rights. Years ago a friend of mine proudly announced, “Suddenly, we have 92% of our adults in groups.” He was at a traditional Baptist church with a very large, well established adult Sunday school. The vast majority of the adults were in Sunday school classes. He reconfigured his definition of groups and overnight went from nobody in groups to 92% in groups. So what?

My friend knew that an alignment series or a church-wide campaign wasn’t necessary to connect people into groups in his church. Sunday school was meeting that need. He would have preferred everyone to choose off-campus small groups, but he also wanted to keep his job. He left Sunday school alone, because it was working. But, he also discovered an opportunity: 8% of their adults were not in a Sunday school class. How could he help them grow spiritually?

Now, Who at Your Church is Not in Group?

Rather than focusing on draining your women’s ministry to get more people into “groups,” focus on connecting people who are only attending the worship service. (Besides that Beth Moore addiction is very hard to break). You don’t need to regroup people who are already in groups.

Who is not in a group of any type in your church? The bigger question is “Why did they say ‘No’ to what you are currently offering and what might they say, ‘Yes’ to.” They are not being disloyal or unfaithful in not taking you up on their offer. You’re just not offering what they want or need. Offer something different.

If you are the only one recruiting all of your group leaders, invite people to volunteer to host a group in their homes. If you’ve been using the host strategy since 40 Days of Purpose launched 20 years ago, then the gig is up. People know that host really means “leader.” Instead encourage people to get together with their friends and do a study. Provide an easy entry point to LEAD a group. Pastors talk about easy entry points to join a group, but that misses the mark. Your leading metric should be leading a group instead of joining a group.

How Do You Pull This Off?

You have a few options here.

A good option is for your senior pastor to invite your members to lead a group with an easy-to-use curriculum that you purchase. There is a lot of great video-based curriculum out there. Go to topbiblestudies.com for a curated list.

A better option is for your senior pastor to invite your members to lead a group with an easy-to-use curriculum that you create based on your senior pastor’s teaching. This does not need to be aligned with the sermon series. Your pastor on the teaching video will greatly increase your group participation.

The best option is for your senior pastor to invite your members to lead a group with an easy-to-use curriculum that you create based on your senior pastor’s teaching that aligns with the sermon series. The senior pastor asks. The senior pastor teaches. The senior pastor aligns. The key to all three of these options is your senior pastor.

What if my senior pastor isn’t interested? Pay attention to where your senior pastor is headed in the fall, in the new year, or after Easter, then link your small group launch with where your pastor is going. For more, read here.

Think About This

You don’t need to compete with yourself. Your people might already be engaging in the very things you want to see them do in groups. Getting people to shift from classes to groups is a losing battle, and you’re the loser. You don’t even need to relabel classes as groups. Just regard them as groups. If a person receives care, community, and Bible application in a class, they’re not going to join a group anyway. This is their group!

You don’t need to compete with your people either. They’re already in groups! They have friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives, and others in their lives that they already enjoy spending time with. You don’t need to unnaturally place them into a group of strangers. Give them an easy-to-use curriculum and a coach to guide them, and then let them do what groups do in your church.

For those who don’t fit in either of those categories, there are ways to connect them into groups without resorting to sign up cards or websites. Passive recruiting methods don’t work anyway.

What is a group in your church? What groups do you already have? Where is your pastor headed around the time of your next major group launch? Do this work now and you will have a great opportunity to make more disciples than ever before.

Gearing Up for the Fall 2022 Small Group Boom

Gearing Up for the Fall 2022 Small Group Boom

Click here to LISTEN to this blog post.

Fall 2022 promises to be the largest small group launch season you’ve ever seen. Now that COVID is behind you for the most part and the weather is warming up, people are gone. Don’t believe me? Go price an airline ticket right now. For more on this prediction, go here.

Now that you are convinced, partially convinced, or skeptical that this small group boom is a few months away, how do you prepare? What do you need to have in place? Here are some things to consider:

Maximum Groups Require Maximum Leaders

If you want to launch a group, you have to have a leader. No leader means no group. It’s as simple as that. This reminds me of a conversation back when our church was on-boarding a new children’s pastor. I said, “There are two parts to children’s ministry: (1) Recruiting the leaders, and (2) Keeping the leaders happy.”

Our new children’s pastor asked, “But, when do I get to work with the kids?”

I replied, “You weren’t listening.” He chose to invest his time and energy into leading the kids instead of leading the leaders. His children’s leaders weren’t happy and started quitting. We hired a new children’s pastor not long after that.

You could say the same for small groups. There are two parts to small group ministry: (1) Recruiting group leaders, and (2) Supporting those leaders. Don’t get bogged down trying to find groups for people. Don’t hold the hand of every person who fills out a sign up card for groups. To put it bluntly: this is a waste of your time. Put your effort into recruiting leaders, and then teach the leaders to gather their groups.

Don’t Worry About Connecting 100% into Groups

In the early days of church-wide campaigns, this was the rallying cry: Connect Your Entire Congregation into Community! Been there. Done that. What we discovered was that connecting 100% of a church’s adult attendance into groups is too small of a goal. The more significant metric is the percentage of your congregation LEADING groups.

Our family moved back to my hometown of Topeka, Kansas last summer. We attend the church where I grew up. I get to sit next to my dad every Sunday. It’s nice. But, the church is probably 10% of the attendance it was back in the day. On a good Sunday, there are about 50 people there.

When I showed up, the pastor said, “Well, we’re doing pretty good with small groups. We have one group. That takes care of everyone who wants one.”

I wanted to grab him by the lapels and yell, “You’re looking at this all wrong. You don’t want 50 people in groups. You want 50 people leading groups!” But, I refrained, primarily because he wasn’t wearing lapels, and I promised my wife that I wouldn’t wear my consulting hat to church. I just sit there biting my tongue (until I’m asked). This is also a good marriage lesson for some.

How do you launch 100 groups in your church?

You don’t need 1,000 people to start 100 groups. You need 100 people willing to lead a group. If you have a leader, then you have a group.

Think about who you have in the church. These are the people who rode out the pandemic with you. These are the people who stuck with you and the church through thick and thin. You have to admit that the last two years were not for the faint of heart. Do you think they stuck with you to just take up space? These are your leaders. This is your army. Give them their marching orders.

But……

I know what you’re thinking. You are thinking about that guy or that gal who is a little off. Right? You’re afraid that if they step up to lead a group that you will just have another headache. Your biggest problem is found in the first two words of the last sentence: You’re afraid. Fear not!

Janet Logan gave me a priceless thought about 25 years ago: “Some of the most unlikely people will make some of your best leaders.” That has proven true.

Everybody has friends. If the people who are a little odd invite their friends and acquaintances, those folks know what they’re in for. They know the person. They’re friends! If they don’t have any friends, well, that’s different story.

Loosen Up Your Leadership Requirements for a Season

Don’t lower the bar, but delay some of your requirements to let people test drive a group. You can attempt to convince people that small groups are awesome until you are blue in the face, but they won’t understand until they experience it for themselves. If you invite your people to gather a group of friends, meet online or in-person, give them easy-to-use curriculum, and support them with a coach, most people will have a very good experience that they’ll want to continue. Once they’ve completed a study or two, then you can invite them to fulfill the requirements that you initially delayed.

Most people don’t regard themselves as being any kind of a leader. But, most people DO regard themselves as being a friend. If they have enough influence to gather their friends, then they have promise as a group leader. As John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence.”

Think About This

Things aren’t going to go back to 2019. They’re just not. The world has changed. The culture has changed. What used to work for your groups will not work as well now. It’s time to try something new.

Spend some time thinking about a new approach to recruiting leaders. Pray about what’s next for you and your church. If you need to talk about this, then click this link and set up a time with me. No charge!

If you’d like to move forward, but you’re not sure how, then a church-wide assessment might be in order. For more information, go here.

The Post-Pandemic Small Group Boom 2022

The Post-Pandemic Small Group Boom 2022

If you’d rather listen to this blog post, click here for the Healthy Groups Podcast.

A year ago I wrote about the Post-Pandemic Small Group Boom. I wrote about it a year too early. In this article, I’m going to build a case for the pattern leading up to the fall 2022 small group boom, then coach you on how to prepare for it.

While the churches I’ve worked with over the last two years have more new group leaders, more new groups, and more people in groups than ever before, they’ve been hampered by first the Delta variant, then the Omicron variant. While the impact of COVID appears to be lessening as of this writing, the emergence of variants continue. The impact on society as a whole appears to have decreased. There is less mask wearing, even in airports (but you should follow the guidelines…)

Two years ago everything stopped. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic. Almost no one had experienced a pandemic of this degree except a few centenarians who were babies in 1918 during the Spanish Influenza. The whole world came to an abrupt halt. Originally, a few weeks of quarantine were given in exchange for normalcy resuming quickly. Then, it stretched to Easter 2020 and beyond.

COVID separated the church. The church did not “close,” because the church is a body of believers — not a building, not a service, not an institution. The church couldn’t gather for in-person meetings: worship, small groups, or anything else, but the church never closed.

Many small groups went to Zoom or other online platforms — synchronous or asynchronous. While many groups tolerated meeting online, some have discovered the opportunity of online groups to connect to others who are far from them and far from God. But, Zoom fatigue set in quickly. Online groups are just not the same as in-person groups. And, we found our way around that issue too by making online groups completely different and calling them by another name.

But, right now you are in an unprecedented moment – Small Groups are about to boom!

People have been separated for a long time. Of course, restrictions and attitudes vary across North America. While some churches are just now easing their COVID restrictions, I know of one church that never stopped their in-person services throughout the entire pandemic. I’m not judging right or wrong. I’m just saying “different” restrictions and attitudes. While this is also my first global pandemic, this is where I see things going in 2022 with small groups:

People Will Warm Up to In-Person Gatherings Gradually

While Coronavius numbers are declining, many churches have not seen their worship attendance rapidly bounce back. Pastors grimace at the sight of full stadiums and half empty worship centers. But, let’s face it, nobody’s church could ever rival the Super Bowl. But, on the other side, office space across the U.S. is still only at 38% capacity. Even for those who have been over COVID for a while now, normal has not returned.

When the President of the United States announced in his speech on March 10, 2021 “…if we do this together, by July the 4th, there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day. That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together…But to get there we can’t let our guard down. This fight is far from over” (Source) Politics aside, even the President couldn’t foresee the Delta and Omicron variants. COVID didn’t just blow away by Independence Day 2021. COVID in its various forms seems to be sticking around.

In the meantime, what do you do? Do you just write off the spring semester? I don’t think so. This is the time to experiment. What are your people open to? How are they willing to participate in small groups? Pilot something. Gather groups of who are ready. Be patient with those who are unsure. Try a new approach to online groups. If you’re not sure what your people might be open to, our church-wide assessment can help you find the right direction to go.

People Will Be Gone in Spring and Summer 2022

The Gauge Group, a research firm based in Washington DC, predicted in the fourth quarter of 2021 that people were planning for spring 2022 travel. It’s happening. Planes are full. Airlines are struggling. According to the Morning Brew on April 18, 2022: “People are making up for two years of canceled plans with vacations, weddings, and golf trips to Myrtle with the boys. Some data points:

• Monthly domestic ticket bookings and revenue in February exceeded 2019 levels for the first time since the pandemic began.

• Credit card spending on airlines is also above 2019 levels, JPMorgan said.

“We’re seeing an increase in demand that is really unparalleled,” Delta President Glen Hauenstein said last month. The company reported that March 2022 was its best month for sales ever.”

I’m not suggesting that you raise the white flag for summer, but your people taking a much needed break will create an even bigger fall launch. Use your summer to prepare for fall. Recruit coaches for new group leaders. Create your own video-based curriculum.

Small Groups Will Boom in the Fall

Your people have been apart for a long time. Their need for community is higher than ever. By fall, they will be ready for in-person small groups at a level you’ve probably never experienced. Barring another major wave of the virus, people will be ready to reconnect in small groups like never before.

Are you ready? How will you make the most of this opportunity? This is not the time for business as usual. This is not the time to roll out the same tired small group strategies you’ve used year after year that produce the same mediocre result. What are people willing to say “yes” to this fall?

Preparing for the Fall 2022 Small Group Boom

You may not get a moment like this again. Your people’s lives have been disrupted for a long time. They are ready to get into groups, even if they’ve never been in groups before. Your online congregation is ready to take next steps and to make deeper commitments. Use the spring to make a plan for an exponential group launch this fall. Use the summer to execute your plan.

Choose a Relevant Felt-Need Topic.

What is the greatest need in your community? Locate or create a study that addresses that need. Here are a few topics to get you started: relationships, marriage, parenting, stress, purpose, serving others, or something similar.

This is not the time for a series on fasting, tithing, or another mature topic. Those are important, but not to connect the most people possible this fall. You’ve had a lot of new people join you in worship services both in-person and online over the last year. What kind of a study would appeal to their friends? (For more on creating curriculum)

Reconsider Your Definition of a Small Group.

What is an “official” small group in your church? Once you define an official small group, then you can experiment with “unofficial” groups.

One pastor was struggling with recruiting enough leaders to meet the demand for groups in his church, yet he had very high qualifications for leaders which not everyone could meet. I asked him, “What number of people is too small to be a small group in your church?” His answer: Three people. So, he invited his people to join with two others (You plus two) and do the sermon discussion guide together. Once they get going, then he’ll invite them to fulfill the requirements.

How could you offer your people a small group test drive this fall? Could you call these groups by a different name? Key thought: Don’t advertise these groups. Don’t send anyone to these groups. Allow them to gather their friends. (But, give them a coach!)

Consider Delaying Some Requirements Temporarily.

Many people don’t consider themselves to be any kind of a leader. Yet, most people have the ability to gather a group of friends. This is leadership. As John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence.”

But, to get there, you must decide: what are the minimum requirements for someone to “lead” a group in your church? Breathing or willing? A confession of faith? Church membership? Small group leadership training? A Coach? An interview? The more requirements you pile on, the fewer potential leaders you will have. As my friend Randal Alquist says, “You’re not recruiting elders here.”

Start Building Your Coaching Structure

If you choose to launch groups “wide open” this fall, then you need help ASAP. The key to multiplying small groups is multiplying yourself. Which of your experienced group leaders could help you coach new leaders? If you’re not going to be picky about who leads a new group, then you need to be picky about who coaches them.

When you look at your current group leaders, what groups would you like 10 more just like? Ask those leaders to help coach new leaders. What groups do you NOT want 10 more of? Quarantine that group (sorry).

There is a lot of debate about coaching small group leaders. Some churches have the luxury of hiring enough staff to coach all of the leaders. If that’s you, go for it. But, that’s not where most churches are. There is also a struggle with giving up control (I was there), disconnecting from group leaders, and sharing leadership with others. Let me ask you this: if you had four times as many group leaders as you have right now, how would you support them? The answer is not “more meetings.”

How can you multiply yourself through coaching to support more leaders?

Final Thoughts

The fall of 2022 will be unlike any other season you’ve experienced in small group ministry. You need to be ready. But, let me give you a hint: the strategy for fall 2022 is not pulling out the same tired small group strategies that have connect less than 30% of your members into groups. It’s time to add a new strategy. It’s time to do something different. You may not get another moment like this again. Make the most of it.

How Big of an Easter Group Launch in 2022?

How Big of an Easter Group Launch in 2022?

Click here to listen to this blog post instead.

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.

What are your spring group launch plans?

 

Do School Administrators Hate Small Groups?

Do School Administrators Hate Small Groups?

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.

Exceptions Abound

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.

3 Reasons Coaching Fails

3 Reasons Coaching Fails

If you would rather LISTEN to this blog post, click here.

You’ve probably got a story about how you’ve tried coaching group leaders and how it failed. I actually have a few of those. But, let me assure you that coaching can and does work. You need coaches. You must multiply yourself in order for your small group ministry to grow. So, let me help you get out of your own way when it comes to coaching just like I had to once upon a time. Here are the three biggest reasons that coaching fails.

1. Lack of Relationship

You’ve probably heard coaches complain that their leaders won’t call them back. As much as you try to reassure your new leaders that when their coach calls it’s not a spam call about their car’s extended warranty, the reality is that small group leaders will only take time to call people who are important to them about matters that are important to them. The leaders aren’t to blame. The challenge is how coaches can become important to your leaders.

Coaching is built on a relationship. If there is no relationship, there is no coaching. Period. Adam Grant says that it takes 50 hours to become a friend and 200 hours to become a close friend. If your coaches are starting at zero relationship with their leaders, then it will take a lot of diligent effort and cups of coffee to build a relationship with their leaders. But, you can get a jump on this.

First, match your coaches up with small group leaders they already know. If they already have a relationship, then you’ve got a great foundation for coaching. If the small group leader came out of another group, then the obvious coach is the leader of the group they came out of. If you are starting a new coaching structure, then ask your coaches which leaders they already know. Let the coaches choose their leaders (or even let the leaders choose their coaches). Either way you do it, start with relationship. The only exception is coaching close relatives. Once I allowed someone to coach his son-in-law. I had to unplug that rather quickly and apologize profusely. Ben, I am still sorry. Other than in-laws, start your coaching based on established relationships.

Next, make sure your small group leaders understand that coaches are important people who will help them get their groups started. Remember why leaders don’t call their coaches back? They only return calls to people who are important to them about matters that are important to them. For new leaders this may mean including your coaches in the new leader briefing and leader training.

When our church started groups, I led the briefings and the training, and then assigned the new leaders to the coaches. This did not work. My coaches complained that this was like cold calling. They were right. It was! To make coaching better (and avoid a revolt by my coaches), I started including coaches in the briefings and training. For the new leader briefing, the coaches were instructed to invite the new leaders they knew to join them at a round table. (See we were putting point #1 into practice). Then I introduced the coaches as “important people who would help them get their groups started.” I gave them reason to call their coaches back. Lastly, after I introduced the coaches, I left the room. The coaches did the rest of the training.

If your coaches are struggling to connect with their leaders, then you need to check the temperature of the relationship. The closer the relationship, then the better the coaching. The more unreturned calls, well, you do the math.

2. The Wrong Approach

If your leaders are not responding to coaching, then they’re probably being coached in the wrong way. Probably the second biggest mistake in coaching is attempting to coach all of your leaders in exactly the same way. Your leaders have very different needs and abilities depending on their experience. Coaching should start with what the leaders need. Don’t go into coaching with a prescribed coaching process that you will inflict on every small group leader. That simply won’t work. After all, ministry is not something we do to people.

Are your leaders starting their very first groups? Then, they will need direction and support to get their group started. This might involve weekly contacts. It will certainly involve a great deal of encouragement. But, if you’re leaders have led for a while, this is the last thing they need. In fact, if you attempt to coach an experienced leader in the way you would coach a new leader, don’t be surprised if that experienced leader disappears, even if the leader and the coach have a good relationship.

Think about your children. If you have a variety of ages of children, you don’t treat them the same way. Infants depend on you for everything. Teenagers and young adults can hopefully do more on their own. In fact, if you attempt to tell a young adult what to do like you would tell a younger child, you’re probably in for a fight. At this stage, you ask more questions and help them reach their own conclusions. You also wouldn’t attempt to teach your toddler to drive the car. In the same way, coaching must be appropriate to the leader’s experience.

When you think about your leaders, who is just starting out? What type of coaching do they need? Then, who’s starting a new group, but has experience leading groups from previous groups or another church? They don’t need to go back to kindergarten. Which leaders have been around for a while? They probably don’t need to be told what to do. But, they do need support in difficult circumstances and accountability to fulfill their group’s purpose.

When it comes to coaching, one size does not fit all. If you are attempting to coach all of your leaders exactly the same, then you’re making a big mistake. Start with what your leaders need, then coach from there.

3. You Won’t Let It Work

I’m not going to accuse you of this last one, but I will explain how this was my problem. I recruited people with good character and great small group experience to coach my leaders, but I held them back. They were more than capable of coaching and supporting their leaders, but I kept them on a short leash. They had given no evidence of doing a poor job coaching leaders or being untrustworthy in any way. I was just insecure. Under the guise of being responsible for the small groups, I assigned tasks to my coaches but I did not give them the authority to lead. “Hi, my name is Allen, and I’m a recovering control freak.” As the pastor, I felt that I needed to be involved in everything and know everything that was going on. No one really needed my intervention as much as I needed to be needed. I believe that’s called co-dependency. The result was that my leaders were okay but not excelling, my coaches were frustrated, and our groups were stuck with only 30% of our adults connected. My coaching wasn’t working, and
I was the problem.

The best decision I ever made was to gather a team of coaches to lead the small group ministry with me. We led together. We learned together. We troubleshot issues together. The small group leaders had better coaching. The coaches felt empowered and enabled to lead. I had the most fun I’ve ever had in small group ministry. Oh, and our groups went from 30% of our adults connected to 125% connected. I wasn’t managing 30% very well. I never could have kept up with the growth of our small groups except for that team.

Here’s a hard truth: your small group leaders and coaches don’t need you as much as you think they do. They need someone who is available when something really big happens in their groups. They need a friend to coach and encourage them. But, they don’t need another leaders’ meeting. They don’t need another newsletter. They need a coaching relationship. And, you need to let capable people lead with you. Don’t try to do it all by yourself.

Think About This

Some churches have the staff and budget to hire all of the pastors they need to coach their small group leaders. Other churches have a simple church approach and just don’t offer very many ministries. Their staff is devoted to group leaders. Good for them, I guess. But, whether coaches are paid or volunteer, these lessons apply. How are the relationships going between coaches and leaders? What kind of coaching do your leaders need? And, are you empowering others to lead and getting out of their way?

It might seem easier to coach and train small group leaders all by yourself. But, I guarantee you that it’s not better.

Related Resources

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