Suddenly, Everybody has Time for a Small Group

Suddenly, Everybody has Time for a Small Group

Unless they offer an essential service, suddenly everybody has time for a small group. The #1 excuse people give for not joining a group is that they are too busy or they don’t have enough time. Small Group Pastors know what they are really saying is, “Small group is just not a priority.” I get that. But, now the “I don’t have time” excuse has been erased, and small groups should become a greater priority — even if they can’t meet in person.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Why do you need to start new groups during a pandemic?

Whether by choice or by mandate, people are staying away from other people right now. Church services have gone online. School has gone online in many places. While people are making their best attempts to curtail the spread of a disease, isolation and loneliness coupled with a steady intake of cable news and social media is a breeding ground for fear. Isolation and fear come straight from a page in the enemy’s playbook. The devil is having a heyday with this.

People have spiritual and emotional needs. With all of the conflicting information and no one to discuss this with, the monsters in our people’s heads just become bigger and bigger. Last week I wrote about practicing the “one anothers” of the Bible while in quarantine. People need more than worship and a sermon to reassure them and help them deal with what’s going on. Beyond that some people have practical, physical needs. How is your church keeping up with older people or people with medical conditions. We must find a strategic way to care for our members. Here’s a tough thought — your people can find a better online service. How you help them right now will determine where they go and where they give after this is all over. This is fertile ground for the enemy to do his work. This is a tremendous opportunity for the church to do its work.

As a church staff, you are working hard to transition worship and sermons to online services, but what about the social time people spent in the lobby or even in the parking lot. How are you meeting your members’ need for connection? This is the time to launch new groups. Groups could meet on a video platform. Groups could meet on a free conference call line. While many are forced to be apart, there are ways to be together.

How to Start New Groups

Starting new groups online is not so different than starting groups offline, except you have one advantage. People need connection more than ever. Now is the time to get all hands on deck and start as many groups as possible. Churches must mobilize the most people they can for ministry right now. Your people need personal care like never before. You can do this. Here’s what you need to get started:

A willing, caring person to initiate.

If there was ever a time to bypass bulky requirements for group leaders and get all hands on deck, the time is now. Invite every person who will willing and caring to start a group right now. If you are insecure about that method, then review a copy of your church’s membership roster. Who would you feel good about? Call them and invite them right now. Who is willing and caring? Remember, they suddenly have time for a group.

A system to connect.

Once you have invited people to lead these groups, then ask them who they know who would be interested in a group. Take a week and have them invite everyone they know inside the church or outside the church to join their group. Then, invite the rest of your congregation to sign up online or even give out some names for leaders to call and invite to their group. The idea is that everyone in the congregation would have someone to connect with personally every week.

A platform to meet on.

Some localities are still allowing meetings of groups less than 10 people. If people are comfortable meeting in person, then they can. Personally, I would recommend an online option like a teleconference or a conference call. This will prohibit any unnecessary contact and potential spread of disease. Teleconference services such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, and other services offer a stable platform and an easy way to connect online with video. Most services offer a call-in number for those who might be less tech savvy. For a comparison of video platforms, click here. If video is not a good solution because of the internet service in your area, then a free conference line could work as well. Several services are available.

For families with children, encourage them to meet later in the evening when their kids have gone to bed. Wear headphones to eliminate background noise. Mute yourself when you’re not talking. And, do not take your device into the bathroom with you!

Curriculum to guide.

Your groups could start with just a weekly check in to see how everybody is doing. Start the meetings by allowing people to debrief what’s going on in their lives and in their minds. Another great way to start a new group is to ask people to tell their stories or at least the part of the stories that they’re willing to tell. This is an important way for the group to begin to understand each other and have context for what they share in the group.

For new leaders I have discovered that it’s best to use some sort of video-based curriculum that contains the teaching on the video. This makes things safe for both the new leader as well as the pastors. The new leader doesn’t have to be the Bible expert, and the pastors don’t want the new leader to teach or be the Bible expert anyway. By giving them a curriculum that you’ve created or a curriculum that you trust, you could assure that the group will follow the topic that you’ve given them and have a great meeting to encourage each other, build up their faith, and grow spiritually in an unusual time.

Just-in-time training and coaching. Don’t skip this step!

There won’t be a lot of time to train these leaders at first. I have discovered that if you recruit an established leader to follow up with new leaders, you create a win-win situation. The new leaders get help and support right when they need it, and the experience leader gets a trial run at being a coach. Once the trial is over, you can determine whether the new leaders will want to continue and whether the coaches should continue.

Just like groups can meet over a teleconference or conference call, training can also happen in the same way. In the last church I served we had an immediate need for coaches. I knew it would be difficult to add another meeting to an already busy schedule which included all of the coaches leading their own small group, so we met together on a conference line at about 8:30 at night for 30 minutes and did this for about six weeks in a row. Why did we meet so late? Well everybody was home from work, finished with dinner, and their kids were hopefully in bed. With all of these distractions removed, I was able to conduct the training and get these new coaches started. The same can be true for leader training, but I would recommend letting the coaches do the work for at least the first six weeks, then offer more formal training when the leaders are ready to move forward and when the leaders feel like they actually need the training.

Follow up and feedback.

Leading a small group and coaching is important work so you must inspect what you expect. If you’ve asked your coaches to call the new leaders every week, then you need to call the coaches every week and hear what’s going on with the groups. As a pastor, you want to know what’s going on with your people especially during a crisis. Your coaches can give you the needs that you need to address that maybe they cannot. You also get an accurate picture of what’s going on in your small group ministry. If you wait for a report, you are already in the weeds.

Do for your coaches what you expect them to do for your leaders. Just like your people need the care of a leader and your leaders need the care of a coach, your coaches need care from you. Now that your schedule has changed, it shouldn’t be too hard to pick up the phone and give each of your coaches a call.

Supervision and accountability.

While you have successfully given away the ministry to new leaders and new coaches, the only thing that you cannot give away is the responsibility for the ministry. The buck still stops with you. I don’t say this to make you nervous, but I do say this so you will avoid an entirely hands off approach. The coaching structure is effective, but it cannot run on auto pilot. While you are not in the day-to-day care of leaders, you cannot be completely out of it either. This is still your baby.

The End Result

In this climate, everything you do is essentially a startup. You cannot call a meeting and gather people on campus. You cannot do on-site training. You can’t even visit your people in their homes. But you can start online groups that will accomplish all of this. This may go against your personality. This may go against everything that you’ve done before. But the message is the same — We are better together even if we are apart.

By starting new small groups right now, your people will feel less lonely, less isolated, and less fearful. These groups can help your people build their faith and experience the care that they deserve. And the hard truth is that you cannot create that with an email.

My hope for you is that the end result of starting online groups will be at the beginning of something new for your ministry and your church. Pastors and staff cannot possibly meet all of the needs of any congregation. And they shouldn’t. Now more than ever, you need to get your people to engage their gifts and serve others in groups like never before. Don’t waste this moment. Suddenly, everybody has time for a small group!

If you’re ready to start groups, I want to invite you to two webinars this week:

How to Start Online Small Groups Replay

Easter Online Replay

Promoting Community While Social Distancing: Moving Your Small Groups Online

Promoting Community While Social Distancing: Moving Your Small Groups Online

Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, people need each other more than ever before, yet they need to avoid each other more than ever. Christians believe faith is more powerful than fear. As the news media and government agencies continue to discuss the critically important topic of the spread and impact of Coronavirus, it’s easy for anyone to give into fear, especially when they are isolated from others.

Courtesy of @kenwmurphy via Instagram

Worship services are forced online as groups of 10 are being discouraged to gather. For smaller numbers, social distancing is encouraged where people should stay six feet away from each other. Whether by mandate or by choice, people are cautious about meeting with any size group. Isolation, though, tends to amplify fear. How can we promote community and social distancing at the same time?

Reframing Life and Ministry

The only thing missing from everyday life amid a pandemic is personal contact. The church may not be meeting within the four walls of the church building for an hour on Sunday, but the church can function as the Body of Christ despite the lack conventional church services.

Paul instructed in 1 Corinthians 12 that every member of the Body is important and that every member has gifts. Rather than meeting in weekend services to check off the church box for the week, members can and should be challenged to embrace their deeper calling. Who can they serve? How can they encourage? How can the church be the church outside of the four walls of a Sunday service? We really should be asking these questions anyway.

When we think of small groups in particular, often we focus on practicing the “one anothers” of the Bible.

“Love one another” (John 13:34; John 15:12).

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (Romans 12:10).

“Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).

“Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16).

“Stop passing judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13).

“Serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).

“Carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other” (Ephesians 4:32).

“Build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

“Encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13).

“Spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).

“Pray for each other” (James 5:16).

There are 59 of these statements in all. (For a complete list, check out this post on smallgroupchurches.com LINK https://www.smallgroupchurches.com/the-59-one-anothers-of-the-bible/

There are only a couple of these statements that should be avoided in a climate of social distancing:

“Wash one another’s feet” (Mark 9:50) and

“Greet one another with a holy kiss” (1 Peter 5:14).

All of the other “one anothers” can be practiced among believers even in isolation, quarantine, and social distancing.

Reframing the Practice of the One Anothers

What is available to believers who are in isolation or self-quarantine? We have computers, tablets, smartphones, messaging, social media, telephones, streaming video services, and televisions. People communicate more while they are apart than when they are actually together it seems! Now take the communications devices available to people and pair them with the one another statements.

With this technology, how do we “encourage one another daily” as stated in Hebrews 3:13. The reality is most people don’t see each other every day. But, given the technology in our hands, we could text or message encouragement to one another daily. Just the other day a friend in Florida came to mind. I texted to see how he was doing. He was discouraged. In a short text, I encouraged him. His response was, “I think that’s just what I needed to hear today. Thank you.” I wasn’t in the same room with him. I wasn’t even in the same state with him, but I was able to encourage him. How can we encourage one another daily when we can’t see them in person? Use what we have!

The same goes for these other “one another” statements as well.

“Love one another” – We can do this anywhere at any time.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” – We can call to check on each other.

“Honor one another above yourselves” – We can think of others before we think of ourselves. How is the pandemic affecting those we know? How about our neighbors?

“Live in harmony with one another” – Distancing may promote harmony in some ways. But in light of a global pandemic, we can also put our differences aside.

“Stop passing judgment on one another” – Everyone acts differently in different situations. Be as gracious in social media as you would if you were talking to the person face to face. People are already anxious. We don’t need to feed into this.

“Serve one another in love” – Can you spare a square? If someone is in need and you have the ability to help, then help them. You might need to make a “no contact” delivery and leave some toilet paper on their doorstep, but you can serve.

“Carry each other’s burdens” – When you call to encourage someone, you can listen. You can empathize. You can’t give them a hug, but you can care.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other” – Life’s too short. Let it go.

“Build each other up” – When people are isolated, their thoughts and our enemy can get the best of them. Lift them up. Send a text about what you like about them. Post a verse. Leave a voice mail.

“Spur one another on toward love and good deeds” – We need reminders to move forward and not get stuck. While stuck home from work or school, we have time on their hands. How can we help others?

“Pray for each other” – We can pray over the phone. We can even pray on someone’s voice mail.

Meeting with Your Small Group Online

Hebrews 10:25 instructs us “…not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…” Often these instructions are taken for worship services, which today have moved online. The author of Hebrews is more than likely speaking to smaller home gatherings. This is your small group. You could take the risk and meet together in-person. But, let’s face it, we don’t know where the Coronavirus pandemic is going to go. Your group might meet, but some might choose to stay away – either out of caution or out of fear (Remember: “Stop passing judgment on one another”). If we can’t meet in person, we can meet online.

I was part of an online small group on CompuServe in 1992. There was no video or audio. It was basically a chatroom and a message board. It seems like ancient history now, but this was back before most people had ever heard of the internet. On my dialup modem, I connected with Greg in southern California, Trish in Chicagoland, David in California, and a couple in Idaho. Greg wasn’t even a Christian at the time, but he joined our Christian forum because it offered low priced, flat rate service. One day Greg informed the group that he received Christ as his Savior. We all converged on Greg’s house in San Dimas, California for his baptism. Years later, Greg was a groomsman in my wedding. Since moving to the East Coast, we don’t see each other very often, but we still connect.

With online technology today, it’s easier than ever to host groups online. You get to see faces and hear each other’s voices. It’s much better than my CompuServe days! To meet in online groups, you have to pick a platform. I prefer Zoom, which offers both a paid and free service. Group members can connect by video, audio, and/or telephone. I use it every day for staff meetings and coaching groups.

To make group meetings work best, you have to eliminate distractions –close other windows and notifications on your computer, tablet, or phone. Use ear buds or headphones to prevent audio feedback. Make sure there is nothing distracting in the environment where you are sitting. Then, just focus on your group meeting.

Over the years, I’ve heard people object that people who meet online can pretend to be anyone they want and won’t necessarily present their real selves. I’ve discovered this is also true in in-person meetings. It’s up to group members to choose how much they will disclose about themselves and how vulnerable they will be. Remember: speed of the leader, speed of the team.

Ministry doesn’t have to stop because of a pandemic and social distancing. In fact, there are plenty of opportunities for the church to be the church. The persecuted church in Acts 8:1 couldn’t stay with the apostles in Jerusalem, but they did spread the message of the Gospel throughout Judea and Samaria just as Jesus commanded them in Acts 1:8. How can we use this circumstance to fulfill Jesus’ command? We don’t need church buildings. We don’t need “official” ministries. We don’t need church staff to lead the meetings. Now is a time to be the church more than ever. My hope is even when we go back to weekend worship services, we will never go back to “normal.” The church should continue to be the church.

For more information on online small groups:

How to Host an Online Group by Jason DeGraaff (Offers a comparison of teleconference services).

How Online Small Groups Work by Jay Kranda

Free Small Group Resources for Pastors

Free Small Group Resources for Pastors

Has your week suddenly slowed down?
Various parts of the world are reacting differently to the Coronavirus pandemic. Some churches were online only last Sunday. Others were sparsely attended. Yet, Costco is jammed!

By choice or by mandate, your meetings might be cancelled this week. You may even work from home. All of that to say, things have slowed down. While you very much deserve a little downtime or even a staycation, this is also a great time to invest in yourself.

 THREE FREE RESOURCES FOR YOU THIS WEEK!

The Senior Pastors Guide to Groups – Free Download.



3 Keys to Lasting Groups Online Course – Use Code: LEARN ($27 value) — good thru 3/31/2020



One-on-One Coaching Call with Allen White ($150 value) – Sign Up by Clicking Here.



If there is any other way I can help you, please let me know by replying to this email.

Live in Wisdom and Faith!

Allen White
Dominate with Groups in 2020

Dominate with Groups in 2020

What are your church’s priorities? For many churches big priorities point to big events – weekend worship services, conferences, and outreach events. While all of these things have their place, do they deserve all of the attention they get? Imagine if small groups and disciple-making were front and center for once instead of lingering on the backburner somewhere.

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

Jesus commanded us to “go and make disciples.” Disciples aren’t made overnight. Discipleship is not a process or a program. Making disciples requires a person. After all, disciples make disciples. If disciples could be mass produced then services and seminars would be adequate to do the job. Clearly, they don’t.

What if everything in your church revolved around small groups instead? When our church in California reached a place where 125% of our weekly worship attendance was connected into groups, priorities shifted for our staff. As far as discipleship went, the tail was no longer wagging the dog.

How can small groups rise to the top? First, you don’t have to tear everything else down to raise the value to groups and disciple-making. This is not a matter of demolishing a church’s ministry to rebuild it. No one can afford to do that. This is more the scenario of re-engineering the airplane while it’s flying. It requires more nuance. By recognizing the opportunities and creating the right alliances, small groups could dominate your church in 2020.

Partner with Your Senior Pastor.

Why are the senior pastors so invested in the weekend service? First, pastors put their hearts and souls into creating a sermon. If you’ve preached, you know that time and energy it takes. One pastor said that it was like having a term paper due every week.

Another reason pastors are invested in worship services is because a large portion of the church attend. It’s a good feeling to speak to a packed house. Over the years, I’ve spoken to as few as 11 people and as many as 5,000 in a single day. The bigger, the better, right?

Lastly, preaching a sermon produces immediate results. Pastors tell jokes, and they get a laugh. They hit a point hard, and they get a response. Some will shout, “Amen!” Others might become very quiet. Then, in many churches at the end of the service there is a response at the altar. While approval is not the goal, a response is certainly reassuring.

While there are other reasons for pastors to devote themselves to worship services, think about these three things: (1) pouring their hearts and souls into teaching, (2) reaching many people, and (3) receiving a response. Small groups can do this too and even at a larger scale. By putting the pastors teaching on video, an audience larger than the weekend service will be reached. All of the hard work of sermon prep doesn’t end up in a file folder, it lives on in living rooms and breakrooms and board rooms around town.

Getting the response is up to the small group pastor. Collect stories of what God is doing in groups. Let the pastor know the impact the video teaching in groups is making. If senior pastors could reach larger audiences every week wouldn’t they be interested. Your small groups will connect your congregation, but will also include many people from the community who have never darkened the door of your church. In fact, according to Rick Warren, there is a trend of people coming to a small group first, then attending a weekend service with their groups. By partnering with senior pastors, their goals will be reach and so will yours.

Create a Next Step for Every Church Event.

Do marriage conferences improve marriages? They could. They also might accelerate conflict. Do sermons make disciples. I’ve already answered that here. Do men’s retreat make better men? They could, but as Randy Phillips, the former president of Promise Keepers says, “The failure of Promise Keepers was not offering a next step after the conferences.” Essentially Promise Keepers became promise breakers. While services and events are not the be-all end-all of life change, they can be a start. They can inspire commitment, but it’s not over and done. As Marcus Buckingham said, “The problem with people is they are just never done.”

Change is difficult. People fall into patterns of behavior that they’ve learned over the years. Marriages fall into patterns. Work relationships fall into patterns. We commonly refer to this as getting into a rut. It’s hard to get out. Change is difficult.

We know how to lose weight, but we don’t. We know how to get out of debt, but we’re still in debt. The list could go on, but we will stick with my problems for now. When I lose weight, it requires focused effort. I need accountability. I have to set a goal and make steps toward that goal. I could listen to someone talk about weight loss and be inspired. I could even watch exercise videos and still not lose a pound. Now before this gets silly, this is also true for every other change a person is trying to make.

Every change starts with a commitment. A conference, a retreat, or a worship service is a great place to make a commitment. But, commitments are forgotten without a next step and others to support you. If your church hosts a marriage conference, what’s the next step? Does the speaker have a book or curriculum? If not, what resources are available? Start groups during the conference. If your church has a men’s retreat, use the opportunity to form groups at the retreat before the guys come home. Have the study and the day and time of the first meeting in place before they resume their regular schedule. And, for the sermon, help your members take their weekend into their week by producing a sermon discussion guide or an alignment series.

Events can start something, but they cannot create lasting change. Small groups can complement events and give people what they need to achieve the growth they desire. Every event in your church should be a launching pad for small groups.

Make “Small Groups” the Answer to Every Problem.

What is your senior pastor’s biggest concern for your church?

More Leaders? Small Groups are a leadership development engine.

Better Attendance? People in groups are more committed than people who are not in groups.

More Serving? People in groups serve more than people who aren’t in groups.

Better Giving? People in groups, on average, give 4% more of their income than people not in groups.

More Growth? People in groups are more focused on growth than people not in groups.

Better Outreach? People in groups reach others for Christ more often than people not in groups.

Your pastor’s major concerns are all addressed in small groups. These thoughts are not merely anecdotal. Look at the research by Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger in Transformational Groups and Princeton professor Robert Wuthnow in Sharing the Journey. Research shows that people in groups are the most motivated and most active members of the church. (For a synopsis of this research: The Senior Pastors Guide to Groups). If you want more of “all of the above,” you need to connect more people into groups.

So, Why Aren’t Senior Pastors the Most Excited About Groups?

  1. They may not know the value of groups. The senior pastor role today is more like a CEO. There’s a lot on your pastor’s plate. That’s why you were hired to take care of groups and discipleship. Yet unless you engage your senior pastor, discipleship will continue to linger in obscurity in your church. Help your pastor see the benefits of groups. Zig Ziglar once said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” Find every possible way to align groups with where your pastor is headed or what concerns your pastor the most.
  2. Most seminarians don’t learn about groups. I earned a Master of Divinity in Christian Education and did not hear one lecture on small groups. If pastors’ degrees are in pastoral ministry, biblical studies, counseling, or theology, they didn’t learn about small groups either. You have to educate your pastor about small groups and the key role they should play in the church. Point to outstanding models of churches with groups like North Point Ministries, Saddleback Church, North Coast Church, and many others. Start a staff small group. Tell the stories of what God is doing in your groups.
  3. Senior pastors may be resistant to groups because their small group pastors have become adversarial. One small group pastor complained to me, “I just can’t get my pastor on board with small groups.” I told him that he didn’t need to get his pastor on board. It was the pastor’s boat! The small group pastor needed to get on board with where the senior pastor was headed and include groups with it. The senior pastor has the responsibility to hear from God and give direction to the church. Follow that direction and add groups to the strategy.

No one should feel more strongly about small groups in your church than you. You should be the most passionate person when it comes to groups. Don’t allow your passion to spill over into anger. But, have small groups on the brain! The answer to every question your senior pastor or your team asks should be, “Small Groups.” As you partner with your senior pastor and others, you can dominate with groups in 2020.

Is Your Church Ready for Easter?

Is Your Church Ready for Easter?

Easter preparation comes in different ways. This is certainly the season where plans are amping up for Easter worship services. But, beyond music rehearsals and set design, how are your members personally preparing for Easter?

Image by Germán R from Pixabay

Easter marks the most significant event in Christianity. If there was no resurrection, then there would be no church. In the midst of stuffing Easter eggs and sending out social media posts about service times, the church should also prepare their hearts.

For liturgical churches, the 40 days from Ash Wednesday (February 26, 2020) to Easter (April 12, 2020) is known as Lent. While your church may or may not follow the liturgical calendar, you will certainly celebrate the true meaning of Easter and captivate your members’ hearts and attention.

Charlie Holt and Bible Study Media have produced an excellent video-based study for Lent called The Crucified Life (catch my interview with Charlie here). Filmed at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando, this curriculum provides a space in which believers can listen to Jesus’ final words from the cross. They will understand and identify with His suffering in a way that challenges, transforms, and ultimately brings hope. The video-based teaching is accompanied by a beautiful, full-color study guide and a devotional book.

Of course, the story of Jesus doesn’t stop with the crucifixion. The Christian Life Trilogy includes two other studies in the series: The Resurrected Life and The Spirit-filled Life. These series can start at Easter and Pentecost respectively. These follow-through series will not only continue the story, but will also help the groups starting prior to Easter to continue on after Easter. A next step is necessary to guarantee the success of the first step.

While Pentecost Sunday is May 31, 2020, some groups find it difficult to meet during the summer months. That’s okay. The Spirit-filled Life study can be used in the fall of 2020. Groups can focus more on group life during the summer months, then meet again for the fall study.

While bunnies and Easter eggs are fun (and you should have plenty of them), refocusing on the meaning of Easter and what Jesus did on our behalf is a significant reminder for all believers. People live busy and distracted lives. Why not set aside an intentional season like Lent to prepare for Easter?

Testimonials for the Christian Life Trilogy:

“Charlie Holt brings us to the foot of the cross and the very heart of the Christian gospel. He invites us to ponder the death of Jesus for us and our own death to self in response to him. Powerful, compelling, transformative; a wonderful study for Lent or any other time.” – The Rt. Rev. John W. Howe, Retired Bishop of the Diocese of Central Florida

“In his series, Father Charlie Holt offers believing Christians new reflections on the sublime lessons of Christ’s sacrifice for us, while at the same time offering means whereby we as individuals can apply the lessons of Calvary to our own lives. The series is an important opportunity to grow in faith by means of encouragement and meditation, especially as regards the self-examination that all Christians are called upon to do in our walk.” – Martha Hoeber

“The Crucified Life is really taking our congregation more deeply into Lent. The stories I hear from our groups include new friendships, more meaningful fellowship, and faith-filled risk taking in several ways. People who have never led a discussion are doing it well. One host is even re-learning to play the piano so that her group can close each week by singing a hymn together. We are on an amazing journey together into the heart of the Crucified Life. Thank you for making these materials available!” – The Rev. Pamela Easterday, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Melbourne, FL

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?

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