Learning by Doing in Groups

Learning by Doing in Groups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing DIY Video Curriculum

Introducing DIY Video Curriculum

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

Photo by Allen White

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

Why Create Video Curriculum?

Peak Your Pastor’s Interest in Groups.

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

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

Energize Your People’s Interest in Groups.

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

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

Empower Your People to Make Disciples.

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

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

Here are the short answers:

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

How DIY Video Curriculum Can Help.

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

For more information on DIY Video Curriculum, Click Here.

Keeping Your New Groups

Keeping Your New Groups

Forming new groups is one thing, but keeping your new groups is a different story. A church asked for coaching a few years ago. They were in a desperate situation. Having just completed their first 40 Days of Purpose campaign, the church was left with a result they didn’t want or expect. Prior to the campaign, the church didn’t have any groups. At the launch of 40 Days, they started 233 groups. It was an amazing story, until Day 41. When the campaign ended, the church was left with three groups. Now, if your a glass is half full kind of person, you would say, well, they have three more groups than they’ve ever had. But, if you’re more like me, well, going from 233 to 3 is a tragic loss. And, it was completely unnecessary.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Campaigns are Just a Start.

I love church-wide campaigns. They are a great way to get avowed non-leaders to open their homes to either host a group or get together with their friends and do a study. After all, you don’t need a leader to make disciples. You need a disciple to make disciples. Often the leadership word gets in the way. It’s okay to be stingy with the term “leader.” Just call them something else. After all, you’re not recruiting elders here.

If people are willing to open their homes and/or gather their friends, the truth is they already have more leadership ability than they give themselves credit for. It’s actually a pretty good test. If people have what it takes to gather a group, then they also have the ability to keep the group. Campaigns are a great way to get leaders to self-select. You don’t need to twist anybody’s arm. You just need to give them permission and opportunity to start a group. A short-term campaign of six weeks or so based on an easy-to-use curriculum is a great way to get them started. If your senior pastor is on the curriculum, then that’s a huge winner.

Give Them a Next Step.

Here’s an interesting fact about people: if you invite them to do a six-week study, when the six weeks is over, they think they’re done. I don’t know where they would get an idea like that. Most small group pastors/directors hope that people will love leading a group and will naturally want to continue. But, there’s the catch — many of them won’t think about continuing until you invite them to continue.

Think of it this way: when people sign up to start a group for a campaign, they are entering into a leadership recruiting process. Maybe you delay some of the requirements initially. You give them enough training to get started, then you let them lead the short-term group. It’s pretty easy. This is stage one of the leadership recruiting process. But, then you need to offer them stage two — continuing into another study.

If the groups like meeting together, then it should be pretty easy to invite them to a next step study like Community: Six Weeks to a Healthy Group, so they will continue. If the group faces some obstacles, then you or their coach needs to walk them through the issue and help them continue. And, of course, a few groups won’t be able to go forward. That’s okay.
The campaign is a test drive to see whether people like leading a group. It’s low commitment and low requirement. If they will accept the offer to a second study, then they are well on their way to becoming a full-fledged group leader.

If your groups are still in a Fall campaign, then offer them a study right now before the groups end. If they are new groups, choose the study for them. If they are established groups, then let them go back to what they’re used to doing.

If you do this right, at least 80 percent of your groups should continue. If you need help, join my Live Online Mini-Course: 3 Keys to Lasting Groups on Thursday, October 17, 2019 at 1-2 pm Eastern (Noon Central/11 am Mountain/ 10 am Pacific). This course comes with a complete set of notes and costs only $20. Click here to register securely through PayPal.
If you cannot attend the course on that date, you can sign up for the online course on Udemy.

Join the 100 Groups Challenge

Join the 100 Groups Challenge

You don’t belong here. That’s the feeling I got from the looks on the faces of the other pastors when I sat down in a circle of churches with over 100 small groups. They had never heard of my church. My church was the only one with under 1,000 people and over 100 small groups. Someone even asked, “Are you sure you’re in the right group?” I was.

My church at the time, New Life Christian Center, Turlock, CA, after being stuck with only 30 groups in a church of 800 adults, made a breakthrough. In just six months, we connected 1,000 people into 103 groups. What’s even better is that in 18 months, we went from having 30 percent of our adults in groups to having nearly 40 percent of our adults lead a group for at least one six-week series. When it all shook out, 13 percent of our adults led on-going groups for 125 percent of our congregation. This was small potatoes compared to what came next with the churches I coached.

Harvest Church (UMC), Byron, GA, started 500 groups in a church of 2,500. By giving permission and opportunity to their members, they had twice as many people in groups as attended the weekend service. New Life Church (AG), Renton, WA found similar results in their congregation of 2,500. When we started, they had 100 groups. In six months, they had 500 groups. But these weren’t the biggest numbers.

Kingdom Life Church, Baltimore, MD, created a series called Back to Church based on Pastor Michael Phillips’ teaching. This church with 600 adults on the weekend launched 167 groups. What would your church look like if one out of every three adults led a group?

The best part in all of these churches was they put an emphasis on discipleship over leadership. Think about it. Jesus did not call us to make leaders. Our mission from Jesus Himself is to “go and make disciples.” As one pastor in Connecticut put it, “We’re not recruiting elders here.” It takes a lot to develop a leader. But, to make disciples, you just need a disciple. After all, disciples make disciples. Now, to keep things headed in the right direction, the churches gave them the curriculum to study and a small group coach to guide them. While they opened up the opportunity, this wasn’t open season on whatever you wanted to do!

The great thing about this approach was that more people were connected into a disciple-making environments more quickly than ever. There were also many people in groups who had never darkened the doors of these churches. Evangelism was happening without calling it evangelism.

There is a bit of a misnomer that in order to have 100 groups, you need 1,000 people — 10 in each group, right? Wrong! To have 100 groups, you only need 100 people who are willing to invite and include others and do something intentional about their spiritual growth.

I want to challenge you to join the 100 Groups Challenge. I am looking for 100 churches who will commit to reaching 100 small groups in 2020. This isn’t renaming classes or teams as “groups.” This is increasing the total number of groups in your church until you reach 100 groups in 2020. If you already have 100 groups, then your challenge is to start 100 new groups in 2020.

Are you ready to join the challenge? Click here.
For more information, sign up for a Free Webinar on Wednesday, September 25 at 1pm Eastern/ Noon Central/ 11am Mountain/ 10am Pacific.

Before You Launch Groups This Fall

Before You Launch Groups This Fall

The Fall is the biggest season of the year to launch groups, but before you launch groups this Fall, you need to plan ahead. Over the years, I’ve seen churches pull out all of the stops for a Fall campaign only to watch the small groups ministry shrink back to its former size after the six weeks is over. I don’t know about you, but so much work goes into a Fall launch just to watch the results disappear is disappointing. And, you certainly can’t make disciples in six-week once-a-year groups.

If you follow a church-wide campaign or an alignment series model, the draw is usually the short-term experience. Your people have a chance to kick the tires and see what groups are like. People who don’t consider themselves as leaders can take group leadership for a test drive. These are great ways to plant seeds for small group ministry. But, unless you have a way to bring in the harvest, you’ll be planting and replanting seeds year after year after year. I refer to this phenomena as Ground Hog Day. While it’s great to give your people a trial run at groups, the trial run is not an end in itself. If they like groups, then what do they do next?

Keep Your New Groups Going

To keep new groups going, you have to offer them a next step. In the middle of the first six-week study, offer them another study for their group to continue. With new groups, you should choose the study for them. Most new groups I’ve led typically don’t have much of an opinion of the first two or three studies they do. Just choose a study for them. Otherwise, they’ll get lost in the study choices that are out there. If the group doesn’t decide to move forward while they’re still in their first study, they probably won’t continue. You want the group members to decide to continue before the end of their first six-week study. As far as established groups go, they can continue with their normal pattern after the campaign ends.

Choose the Right Study

In choosing a next step study for your new groups, if the groups started with a video-based study, then you need to offer a video-based study as a next step. Eventually, the leaders will gain the training and experience to lead other types of studies, but initially the goal is to get the group to take the next step without having to consider any other factors. But, for now, if they started with video, then give them more video.

The next study could be a sermon-based discussion guide with a short video from the pastor. The group could simply download the discussion guide, click the link to watch the teaching video online, then discuss and apply the topic. Some of the churches I’ve worked with have actually recorded these videos between the Sunday morning services on a smartphone, then uploaded the video directly to Youtube or Vimeo. Other churches shoot the video before or after the weekend with the pastor in a studio or in a living room. You don’t need to plan out and shoot the entire series. You can just make the videos and write the discussion guides as you go. This is a great way to help your people take their weekend into their week.You could also create a video-based curriculum about what it means to be a small group at your church. This could become the standard next step for every new group that starts. While I’ve talked to a lot of pastors over the years who were interested in this, nobody actually created one. So, I decided to take the hard work out of doing this for you. Next week, I am releasing Community: Six Weeks to a Healthy Group. This is the second in a series of Do It Yourself curriculum I’ve created. The video scripts are written. You just need to shoot the videos. Then, you can purchase the study guides at allenwhite.org/community. (If you are interested in a custom version of the study or need help with video production, contact us here.)

You can also purchase curriculum for your groups or use a curriculum from a streaming video service. Again, you want to choose something that is relevant to a new group.

Timing is Everything

If your campaign or alignment series starts in late-Summer/early-Fall, then you can offer another six-week series in the Fall that will end before Thanksgiving. It is nearly impossible to keep groups in studies between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day in the U.S., so the study will need to conclude by Thanksgiving. If your campaign starts later in the Fall, then end the first six-week study before Thanksgiving and start the next step study in January. You will still want to invite groups to continue in the next study while they are in their first study this Fall. Secure a commitment from the groups to continue with the new study in January, then offer some suggestions for what they can do during the Christmas holidays as a group.

If a group will do two back-to-back six-week studies, more than likely they will continue on as a group. If you don’t offer them a chance to continue, then more than likely the group will disband. You’ll have to start over again next year. A next step study will make all the difference in keeping your new groups going after a Fall campaign. Don’t miss this step.

Allen White helps Take the Guesswork Out of Groups. We offer booksonline coursescoaching groups, consulting, and curriculum writing and production.

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