One of the primary purposes of an alignment series or church-wide campaign is recruiting potential group leaders for a trial run. The other primary purpose plays into the first one – engaging the senior pastor to recruit potential group leaders. When the sermon series is linked to the small group study or even better, the pastor’s teaching is the basis of the small group study, the pastor will be more interested in groups. When pastors make the investment in creating small group curriculum, they want to make sure the curriculum is used to its full potential. They want as many people to lead groups as possible. You want that too!
While there are other good reasons for alignment series like
the whole church studying a topic together and getting more people into groups,
all of this rests on the number of leaders a church will recruit. The more
limitations the church puts on who can lead a group, the fewer leaders the church
will recruit. Fortunately, the reverse is also true, but who is the church
Attempting to recruit a large number of leaders is a two-edged sword. On one side is the desire to provide a quality group experience with a qualified group leader. The other side is the simple fact that most people don’t consider themselves to be any kind of leader. As soon as you bring up the word “leader,” many people will decline your invitation to start a group. They want to help, but not necessarily lead. Many churches have found it helpful to do away with the term “leader” altogether.
In the early days of church-wide campaigns like 40 Days of Purpose, Saddleback Church chose to call people H.O.S.T.s instead of leaders. This took away the sense that people were being asked to do more than they felt qualified to do. The churches that I served used this strategy, and it worked for a while. But, after using the term “Host” in campaign after campaign, people became wise to the idea that “Host” really meant “Leader.” The jig was up. Now what?
Many of the churches I’ve worked with have dispensed with the terms leader and host all together. While many have struggled with what to call these folks, others have recruited for the function of a group leader without using the term. The invitation would sound more like “get together with your friends and do the study.” While the pastor invites people to “lead” a “group,” neither of those terms were used, and yet people would gather a group of friends and do a study together. See everyone is already in a group after all.
This is more than a rouse to get admitted non-leaders to
lead groups. Churches should be stingy with the term “leader.” In the Bible,
commissioning someone as a leader was a significant proclamation. In fact, Paul
writes to Timothy, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands…” (1 Timothy 5:22,
NIV). The sense here is that before someone is commissioned as a leader, they
must prove themselves. It’s not enough just to select the “right” people and
thoroughly train them, the church also needs to see them in action. Do they
have the stuff to lead? In most cases, the church won’t know until they’ve
actually seen the potential leader in action – actually leading something.
Thus, the dilemma, if the church has a high standard for leadership, which they
should, and the people they are attempting to recruit do not consider
themselves to be any kind of leader, how do you recruit a significant number of
leaders? You don’t.
Let’s take this beyond semantics. This is not a debate of what to call someone or even of lowering the bar on leadership to the point where small groups seem unimportant because so little is expected. The dilemma speaks to the importance of a recruitment process that will bring in the maximum number of potential leaders possible without putting the church leadership into a scenario that bears an uncomfortable level of risk.
The answer can be found in viewing a church-wide campaign as a trial run to evaluate potential leaders. Campaigns are short-term commitments — usually around six weeks. The trial run can be safe for the potential leader by allowing them to “get together with your friends and do the study.” The trial run is also safe for the church by providing the curriculum based on your pastor’s teaching, offering a coach to walk alongside them, and not advertising these groups. (The church will need to advertise some groups, but the leaders should be known and proven.)
At the end of the trial run, potential leaders should be evaluated. Did the fulfill their commitments? Did they enjoy leading groups? Are they willing to continue? If they were successful, then offer another study. If they weren’t successful, then thank them for fulfilling their commitment.
It’s easier to recruit avowed non-leaders to a short-term opportunity to do a study with their friends. Once you see what they can do, then build on this experience and eventually commission them as leaders.
Does your church have unrealistic expectations for adding small groups? In some cases, churches want to shoot for the moon when it comes to the number of groups, but the requirements they place on new leaders keeps their mission grounded.
The number of requirements for prospective leaders is inversely proportional to the number of prospective leaders a church will recruit. Simple put – more requirements mean fewer prospective leaders, and fewer requirements mean more prospective leaders. You can’t have high requirements and an overabundance of new prospective leaders. It just doesn’t work.
Over the years, I’ve had conversations with several small group pastors who had the same thing in common – they were all former small group pastors at the same church. They all left for the same reason. In theory the senior pastor wanted everyone who attended the church in a small group. The problem was there weren’t enough groups for all of the church’s members. The requirements placed on new leaders created a strangle hold on the church’s ability to recruit. Every leader had to be a member of the church, but there weren’t enough members of the church interested in leading groups. Considering the church had a high percentage of people who were not in groups and a relatively low percentage of people who qualified as leaders, the small group pastors faced an impossible situation and eventually a new career. The senior pastor needed to either lower his expectation for how many people should be connected into groups or lower the requirements for small group leadership (at least temporarily). After several conversations with this pastor’s former small group pastors, my sense is that the pastor is really not serious about connecting his church into groups. (If this sounds like you, call me. I can help.)
How realistic are your church’s expectations on small groups?
Exponential growth comes in two different ways. The common
view of exponential growth relates to a trajectory. Eight people in a group
each launch their own groups after a season. Eight times eight is 64. This is
the second generation. Then, when 64 people launch their group of eight, there
are 512. The word “exponential” is generally applied when an organization
reaches the third generation and beyond. I love this thinking, but there is a
problem. Not every culture is amenable to regular group multiplication.
Small group pastors use terms like “multiply” or “birth,”
but for many people it feels more like “splitting up” or “getting a divorce.”
North America is a culture rife with divorce. Please don’t read this as an
indictment against divorce. No person entered into marriage with the intent of
divorce. Something went terribly wrong. This is not a judgment, but an
For those who grew up being bounced between two parents or
in a step family, the effects of divorce are very real. When they join a small
group which in essence becomes their spiritual family, the last thing they want
is for their family to break up.
Some intentional disciple-making groups succeed at multiplying groups to a point, but in North America this is rare to see across an entire congregation. Most people are simply not willing to give up their group in order to start another. So, if groups aren’t exponentially multiplying, where do you get more groups?
There is another way to view exponential. Groups become
exponential when you add an exponent to your goal. If you set out to start 10
groups (or 100) in the coming year, the challenge is to multiply your goal by
10. Those reaching for 10 groups would strive for 100 groups instead. And, if
you’re going for 100 groups, then stretch your goal to 1,000 groups.
Does this sound farfetched? Ask Troy Jones, pastor of New Life Center, Renton, Washington, who started 500 groups in a church of 2,500. Ask Jerry Branch, pastor of Dallas Baptist Church, Dallas, Pennsylvania, who connected 100 people into groups in a church of 50 people.
If you think it’s impossible, then it is impossible for you. No one has ever accomplished anything they perceived as impossible. But, what is possible? When our church, New Life Christian Center, Turlock, California went from having about 240 of our 800 people in groups to connecting over 1,000 people in groups, it seemed impossible to others. Truthfully, when only 30 percent of our adults were connected into groups, it seemed impossible to me too. We were stuck. How did we connect 125 percent of our average adult attendance into groups? It required a change in our thinking.
I used to think that in order to have 100 groups, I needed 1,000 people. After all, 100 groups multiplied by 10 people each is 1,000 people. But, I was looking at this the wrong way. In order to have 100 groups in a church, you only need 100 people to each start a group. If you have a leader, you have a group.
Kingdom Life Church, Baltimore, Maryland, launched a video-based series in their church, which had a weekend attendance of 600 adults. Before the series, they had seven groups. When the series started, they launched 167 groups. These weren’t ultra-small, small groups. Out of 600 regular church members, 167 stepped up to start a group. It’s not impossible. It’s exponential.
The alternative is to grow your groups incrementally. That’s easy. Well, I say that except there was a year I didn’t launch any groups in my church. And, I know that I’m not alone. For any church to start 5-10 new groups is pretty easy. But, what if you 10x that number? What if you embraced the possibility of starting 50-100 groups instead? Rather than just connecting your congregation, you could connect your community.
What’s your goal for this year? What would it look like if you 10x’d it?
The key to successful church-wide campaigns has been
lowering the bar on leadership. It’s time to stop.
Campaigns have seemed successful in the past. The numbers are up and to the right. Every campaign recruits more leaders and connects more people into groups. But, have you considered the attrition? How many people are no longer leading? How many group members are no longer in a group? If you look only at numbers and aren’t tracking the individuals involved, you are entering into a scenario of disposable small groups.
The problem with qualifying anyone to lead is that you’ll
get just anyone to lead. They aren’t equipped. They are inexperienced. They
might be new in the faith. How can they give what they don’t have? But, there
is a way to recruit an abundance of new small group leaders without lowering
Where Are You Headed?
The goal of a church-wide campaign is not to create
DVD-dependent hosts who can never open their Bibles and rightly divide the Word
of Truth. In fact, many churches have experienced a diminishing return having
launched campaign after campaign only to discover their group members are
unchallenged and frequently forced back to “kindergarten” spiritually. There is
a time to begin and a time to grow up.
Ultimately, small groups should be environments where
disciples are made. How do you make a disciple? According to Mike Breen,
“People learn by imitation, not instruction.” To make disciples you must make
disciples of the group leaders. Felt needs topics on video-based curriculum is
a great test drive for admitted non-leaders to try their hands at leading
groups, but it’s not a long term strategy.
But, if you go back to “quality” groups, then what happens
to connecting everyone into groups?
Where Do You Start?
The benefit of church-wide campaigns and small groups for
that matter is leader development. The dilemma comes; however, most people
don’t regard themselves as being any kind of leader. I’ve had numerous people
turn down the invitation of “Would you like to lead a group?” It’s the wrong
question. Many avowed non-leaders have leadership qualities that they haven’t
recognized as leadership gifts. This is where the campaign comes in.
By offering a short-term opportunity for someone to gather
people they are comfortable with and do a study together, they demonstrate the
ability to lead a group without asking them to lead a group. Yea, but, didn’t
that just lower the bar? This is more than semantics – you didn’t invite anyone
to become a leader. You invited them to recruit themselves for a trial run at
leading a group without saying “lead.” Unfortunately, this is where most
church-wide campaign efforts stop. This is not the finish line. This is the starting
Now, It’s Time to Raise the Bar.
Once a “leader” and group have a couple of series or
semesters under their belts, they are effectively indicating that they want to
continue. Now it’s time to bring back the requirements you might have delayed
initially. There’s a big difference between lowering the bar on leadership and
delaying the requirements. When leaders have proven themselves and have
fulfilled the requirements for leadership in your church, then it’s appropriate
to call them a leader.
Calling anyone a “leader” right out the gate is risky. As
Paul told Timothy, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands…” (1 Timothy
5:22). Before anyone is commissioned or given a title, they need to prove
themselves through some kind of trial run. If they pass the test, then invite
them to more. If they don’t do well or exhibit the wrong attitude, then thank
them for fulfilling their commitments. You see, there was something to that “host”
strategy after all.
Grow your leaders. Grow your groups. Turn up the temperature
in the curriculum and in expectations of the groups. Challenge them to take
risks, to serve, and to do things that scare them. Encourage them to face hard
conversations and to tell the truth – good or bad.
Jesus commissioned His disciples to “go and make disciples” – not connect people into groups and not to assimilate newcomers. That may be part of it, but how is discipleship coming along in your church? How many are connecting? How many are growing? How many are leading? Where is your bar set?
Want to continue the conversation? Join the Stop Lowering the Bar Webinar on Thursday, June 6 or Tuesday, June 11 at 2 pm EDT. Register Here.
There’s an old saying, “People don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” You’ve heard it a thousand times. It’s old, but the meaning is relevant. No matter how well you coach and train your leaders, they need to know that you care. Lack of care often leads to burnout. You don’t want to go there.
As the typical ministry season (September – May) beings to
wrap up, it’s a great time to show your appreciation to your group leaders. You
don’t necessarily need to make over-the-top gestures, but it’s important to do
something. After all, there are only two parts to small group ministry: (1)
Recruiting Leaders, and (2) Keeping Your Leaders Motivated, Equipped, and
Happy. They’ll gladly do their job, when you do yours. Here are some ways to
show your leaders that you care:
Plan a Fun Event.
When you think about events, they really can run the gamut
depending on your budget. You could go the route of team building events like
ropes courses, trampoline parks, or escape rooms. If you’re in the vicinity of
a campground, they might have an affordable facility available for your event.
If you’re on a budget, think about a picnic or tailgate. You
could either cater the event or invite all of the group members along with the
leaders to the event. The group members can provide the food for their groups,
so there’s nothing to budget for.
One year our church in California had a picnic like this and
asked each group to present an award to their group leader. Every group got up
and expressed appreciation for their leaders publicly. Then, they would present
either a homemade award like a plaque or a trophy. One group even created a
Barbie doll to resemble their leader. Some groups went way over the top and
gave restaurant gift certificate, a weekend away, or something else their
leader really enjoyed. No matter how it was done, every leader left feeling
very appreciated by the church and by their group.
Give a Small Gift.
small gift communicates a lot. You don’t need to give away a car for leaders to
feel appreciated. Think about what the leaders might enjoy – a Starbucks card,
movie tickets, or an ice cream cone.
One year I gave every one of my leaders a book. I purchased two cases of John Townsend and Henry Cloud’s Making Small Groups Work and gave one to every leader. Not only did they feel appreciated, I also put some training into their hands. Many churches have done the same with my Leading Healthy Groups book.
don’t need to be large. But, even something small communicates a lot.
Give Public Recognition.
In addition to a small gift or some other form of
appreciate, publicly recognizing your group leaders in a worship service is
meaningful to leaders. If this comes from the senior pastor, you get bonus
Asking group leaders to stand, come to the front, or come up
on stage, communicates the importance of small groups and the role of small
group leaders in your church. Either you or your senior pastor can publicly
thank leaders for letting God use them in the past year. You could even give
some statistics like the number of people who came to Christ as a result of
groups, or the number of people currently involved in groups.
While you’ve got your congregation’s attention, this would
be a great opportunity to give them a heads up about your next group launch,
even if it comes in the Fall. People like to plan ahead. And, remember, what
you are saying to your current leaders is also being said to your future
leaders sitting in the congregation.
Leader appreciation is only limited to your creativity. If
you have no budget, then get even more creative. Even simple things like a
handwritten note are significant. After all, who gets personal mail anymore? A
personal email is not the same.
How will you appreciate your leaders this year? What have
you done in the past? I would love to hear what you’re doing.
Most pastors realize their church’s Easter attendance is a
better indicator of the church’s true size than its weekly attendance. Albeit
there are a significant number of visitors on Easter Sunday, the reality is
many of these visitors are not visiting. This is their church. They don’t
attend another church. They claim yours.
In his new book, Connect: How to Grow Your Church in 28 Days-Guaranteed, Don Corder writes, “On any given Sunday, eighty percent are regular attendees and twenty percent are non-regular attendees” (p. 30). He goes on to explain that the 80 percent attend about 33 times per year, while the 20 percent of non-regular attendees are there only 2.4 times per year based on researching The Provisum Group’s database of church clients. What does this mean?
An Attendance of 100 is Really More Like 559.
A church of 100 people is really made up of 559 people. By
Corder’s calculation, 126 people attend 33 times per year on average, while
another 433 make up the other 20 percent of weekly worship attendance. So, how
many people actually attend your church?
If your church averages 1,000 people on the weekend, then
your actual attendee number is somewhere around 5,590. By the same calculation
used above, 1,260 of your people attend about 33 times per year, while another
4,333 attend about 2.4 times per year. If you have any doubts, look at the
total number of records in your church’s database. It’s not so farfetched, is
What Does This Mean for Discipleship?
Often the measuring stick for groups is compared group
membership to the weekend attendance. If you’re in a church of 500 and have 250
people in groups, then you could claim that 50 percent of your people are connected
into groups. But, that’s not realistic in light of this new calculation.
A worship attendance of 500 really represents 2,167 people
who attend your church over the course of the year. If you have 250 people in
groups, you actually have about 12 percent of your people in groups. Well, you
weren’t supposed to be proud of numbers anyway, right?
The church’s mission is to “go and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:18-20). Sermons don’t make disciples. How do you engage the 77.46% of your congregation who only attends an average of 2.4 times per year?
Get Them While They’re There.
What are your church’s peak worship services of the year?
Christmas and Easter, right? The first pastor I served would often say in
Easter services, “Well, if I don’t see you for a while, I want to wish you a
Merry Christmas” and the reverse at Christmas. Rather than ridicule your
infrequent attendees, why not invite them to something?
A pastor’s immediate reaction is “But, it’s impossible to
get any airtime on Easter Sunday (or Christmas)…” That’s true. And, it’s okay.
If you could get airtime in the worship service, that would be great. But,
what’s more important than airtime is a plan.
Make a Plan to Connect Your Infrequent Attendees.
Your infrequent attendees took a step to attend a service.
You just need to give them another step. What are their needs? Where do they
need help? What issues in their lives do they need answers to? If they checked
their children into your children’s ministry on Easter, then a parenting group which
is appropriate to their stage of parenting might be of interest. Are they
married or single? How far do they live from the church? Is there a small group
in their neighborhood? What groups could you promote to these folks? As long as
you have their contact information, you can promote a group that meets their
needs. Or, better yet, a group leader could call and invite a few to their
group. Better still, a person who knows an infrequent attendee could call and
invite them to a group (or start a group).
It doesn’t matter if an announcement wasn’t made in the
service or didn’t appeared in the bulletin on Easter Sunday. For most parents,
their children have overdone the sugar and just want to get home. They’re not
thinking of signing up for a group on Easter or Christmas anyway. But, since
they’ve just attended a recent service, the church is on their mind. Then, when
they receive an invitation by email or a phone call from a warm, friendly group
leader, they might be open to join a group.
While You Have Their Email Addresses…
Remember, infrequent attendees are only coming to your
church for the most part. They may not attend very often, but they aren’t going
anywhere else. If you invite them to a group launch or connection event, they
just might join a group.
Many pastors look at that overly bloated part of the church
database and wonder why they keep all of those records anyway. Many folks don’t
appear to attend much or give anything, so why not purge the database? Don’t
purge the database. These folks are familiar with your church. They are more
likely to attend a service or join a group than people who have never attended.
Invite them to your next connection event. Use the Summer for groups to host
open houses and invite infrequent attendees who live in their neighborhoods.
Don’t rest on your laurels. Your connection percentage just got blown out of the water. Start thinking about turning every group member into a group leader (or every church member into a group leader). The harvest is plentiful. The workers are few.