It’s time for your church to move beyond church-wide campaigns. The first widely publicized church-wide campaign, the 40 Days of Purpose by Rick Warren was launched in 2002. By far, it has been the most popular campaign to date. I am grateful for every person who ever “hosted” or joined a group for that season.
At this point, some of you may be confused. I wrote a book called Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential (Hendrickson 2017), which is all about church-wide campaigns or alignment series. You might ask, “Now you’re telling us that campaigns don’t work.” That’s not what I’m telling you.
Church-wide campaigns used to work. But, there was a time and a season for campaigns. Here are the reasons for those seasons.
When to Stop Using Campaigns
There are two measures for when campaigns are no longer effective. Your church will hit these marks, and then campaigns will no longer be helpful.
First, if a high percentage of your members are in groups, you no longer need to use campaigns. For most churches, there is a 1-3 year window when campaigns are highly effective to recruit leaders and connect people into groups. Beyond that three year window, your church will experience “campaign fatigue.” It’s a strange phenomenon.
Every week, your people will hear a message in the weekend service. Every week, your people will meet in their group and probably study something. But, the idea of continually aligning the weekend service with the group study gets exhausting for people. This seems strange since there is a sermon and a study every week. But, it’s a reality with a few exceptions.
Some churches use sermon-based groups, which I believe is genius from a Christian education point of view. The normal course of sermon-based groups is steady. You don’t face all of the ups and downs of church-wide campaigns. While there’s a push to join groups every semester, it’s not the bandwagon effect over and over and over again. The bandwagon is fatiguing, which leads to the second point.
If your church has used campaigns for more than 3 years, you will experience a diminishing return. For about 8 years now, I’ve told the story of a church who had dramatic success in connecting all of their people into groups within a 9-month 3-campaign push. The pastor was engaged. They were naturals at creating their own curriculum. They launched multiple campaigns year after year. They began facing a steady skid downward. When I caught up with them about a year ago, groups were at an all-time low. Did the campaigns fail?
Their campaigns succeeded for the first year or two. But, by year 3 campaign fatigue had set in. They were excellent at the sprint of the campaign, but suffered when the sprint became a marathon. Your church will suffer this too.
Once the majority of your congregation is connected into groups and you’ve run campaigns for two or three years, it’s time for a change. If you don’t make the switch, your groups will decline, except for two scenarios…Click Here for Part 2.
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By Allen White
Recently a small group pastor asked me, “Where do you stand on the Hosts versus Leaders Debate? People grow in groups, but you don’t have to know anything to be the leader??? I feel like I need to train more but no one wants to sit through training.” This are very important issues. Let me break down this question and offer a few thoughts.
The Hosts versus Leaders Debate
I don’t believe a Hosts versus Leaders Debate is necessary. It’s like a Children versus Adults Debate. At one point in our lives we are children, and then we become adults. Back in 2002 with the launch of 40 Days of Purpose, Rick Warren and the team at Saddleback Church introduced us to the term “Host.” The thought was that most people wouldn’t say they were “leaders,” so the invitation was changed to “host a group” by brewing a pot of coffee and being a “Star with your VCR.” What we discovered were a few problems, but a ton of new leaders who would have never called themselves leaders. “Host” was a great way for people to self-identify as a leader, even if they didn’t know that’s what they were doing.
A host, in turn, becomes a leader. Usually churches will “lower the bar” to allow anyone to host a group. I prefer to say “delay the requirements.” Every church must decide what the minimum requirements would be to allow someone to test drive a small group. If the hosts enjoy leading the group, then they are invited on a pathway to become official small group leaders. This is when the requirements come back into play. But, there is an important loop hole here.
Some people are content to be hosts. They don’t want to become official. Does the church require them to become official? The church could. But, the cat’s already out of the bag. The host doesn’t need the church in order to continue. They just need another video-based curriculum. At that point communication breaks down, and the hosts operate outside of the group system and coaching structure. This doesn’t need to happen, if the church is patient.
The hosts should be given a choice whether to become official or to wait for the next church-wide campaign to come around. It’s not perfect, but it may very well be more than what they were doing before.
Some leaders are children. Others are teenagers. Most become adults. But, all leaders follow that pattern.
“People grow in groups, but you don’t have to know anything to be the leader???”
Years ago I started teaching theology and practical ministry classes at a Bible institute. I was a little intimidated about teaching in my first semester. I felt I needed a better understanding of the subject. I didn’t want to appear foolish. And, I certainly didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of my class. A veteran teacher coached me, “You just have to be one week ahead of the students.”
Granted I had earned a B.A. and an M.Div. I knew the subjects. I just hadn’t taught the subjects. I held the veteran teacher’s secret dearly. I just needed to be one week ahead of my class. And, that’s exactly how I taught at the Bible institute for the next 10 years.
People grow in groups. I absolutely agree. New leaders also grow in groups. They don’t need to have a lot of training to get started. They just need to get started. As issues come up with the group, the new leader should have a coach to turn to. The new leader’s problems become teachable moments. Those lessons will stick with the leaders forever. Put an experienced leader in the life of the new leaders and most of the training will take place on-the-job.
“I feel like I need to train more but no one wants to sit through training.”
I used to feel the same way. Seminary prepared me to lead training meetings. Then, I discovered real ministry. I would carefully plan my training meetings and advertise them well in advance only to stand in an empty room questioning the call of God on my life.
Training with centralized meetings didn’t work for me. I had to stop and ask myself, “What is training?” What I discovered was that training could be a two minute conversation in the hallway or a two minute video sent out to all of the group leaders. (If you need topics and content for your training videos, check out the training section of my book, Exponential Groups, on pages 178-200). Training can be a text message or a voice mail. The best training comes in the relationships between leaders and their coaches.
There is a place for formalized training. A one-time basic training event could be held after each six week campaign to give the new leaders or hosts instruction on how to lead a group at your church. Beyond this, the leaders will gauge what training they need regardless of what small group pastors like me think they should have.
I finally reached a place where I only held two centralized training events per year. I gathered all of the group leaders each Fall to introduce them to the new curriculum and to recruit coaches from our established leaders. In the book, I refer to this as the “Sneak Peek.”
The second meeting was often a group leaders’ retreat early in the year. We would choose a place that was an hour and a half or so away. (In California, this retreat was in Monterey, so if you have that option, take it!) The leaders would pay for their lodging and some of their meals. I would budget for the speaker. This became a very popular event for our leaders. The best part was the leaders could articulate things they learned at the retreat six months after the retreat, because the training was set apart from the normal routine of life.
I appreciate honest questions like this. I don’t believe the hosts versus leaders thing needs to be an either/or. I see it more like Stage 1 and Stage 2. If people don’t respond to an invitation to lead, then an invitation to “host” might do the trick. Personally, I think the term “host” is a bit dated at this point. There are other ways to invite people to lead without using the word “leader.”
Training is not a dinosaur, but the form of centralized training might be. Someone asked me once why I thought their leaders didn’t come to their training. Having no knowledge of this person’s training, I said, “Well, they don’t come because your training is boring and irrelevant.” He was taken aback. How could I make such an accusation about his training? I told him I knew it because that’s why people didn’t come to my training meetings. The good news is there are so many ways to communicate with people these days, there are many training opportunities, we just need to update our methods.
By Allen White
In my last 11 years of coaching over 1,500 churches in North America, I’ve observed that the senior pastor’s attitude and involvement in small group launches is more significant than any other factor in a church’s success. I’ve seen churches of 2,000-2,500 launch 500 small groups or more and keep those groups going forward. Another church recruited 30 percent of their adults on one Sunday to lead groups in their church. Now that wasn’t a church of 100 adults with 30 new leaders. It was a church of 4,000 with 1,200 new leaders. In all of these successes, the senior pastor was leading the charge.
Yet, many pastors have not seen the benefit and have not felt the need to focus on groups in their churches. In conversations with some of these pastors, I have discovered some mistakes in the pastor’s thinking which are holding back the momentum and impact of groups in their churches and communities.
Mistake #1: Relegating Small Groups to a Staff Member.
Most churches that are serious about small groups have already hired a small group pastor or director to oversee the groups. While the commitment to a staff position for small groups is significant, depending on a staff member to grow and maintain a high percentage of the congregation in groups is unlikely. Even the best small group folks out there typically can only maintain about 30 percent of a church’s adults in groups, unless the senior pastor takes a larger role.
Now, some senior pastors will argue that they do care about small groups, after all didn’t they hire staff members to oversee groups? Doesn’t that mean they care? Well, it does, but it doesn’t. If a senior pastor has relegated a small group pastor or director’s ministry to one of many ministries in the church, groups will not grow. If the senior pastor desires to connect the majority of the congregation into groups, then the pastor needs to get involved. While there are many dependable small group pastors out there, should the senior pastor turn the care of the entire congregation over to the small group pastor or director? Absolutely not. Would the senior pastor turn the entire weekend service over to the Worship Pastor? To connect a large percentage of the congregation into groups, the senior pastor must take the lead.
I’ve been an Associate Pastor for most of my 25 years of ministry. Once I discovered the impact my senior pastor had in inviting the congregation to lead groups, I never recruited another small group leader. That means after working seven years to connect 30 percent of our adults in groups, then watching my senior pastor recruit enough leaders to double our groups in a day, I haven’t recruited a single group leader since 2004. (I served two more years in that church, then served a whole other church since then, but I did not recruit any more leaders. My senior pastor did.)
As the senior pastor, you are the key influencer in your church. If you say the very same words your small group pastor/director would say, you will have three times the result. We’re seeing this across the country. Churches of 2,000-2,500 adults are launching 500 groups at a time. Imagine if 20-25 percent of your adults were leading groups. What would discipleship look like in your church? How would that change assimilation? What difference would it make in reaching your community? The answer is a huge difference.
Mistake #2: Using Someone Else’s Curriculum
Your members don’t need Rick Warren’s curriculum. They want your teaching.
The 40 Days of Purpose is by far the granddaddy of all church-wide campaigns. Some 30,000 or more churches went through the series with Rick Warren’s teaching on the curriculum aligned with the pastor’s sermon on the weekend. At first, it seemed the key to the campaign’s massive impact on a congregation was Rick Warren’s curriculum. What we later came to find out was the secret was not in the curriculum. The link to the senior pastor’s messages and leadership in the campaign made the results happen.
While I have nothing against Rick Warren or the 40 Days of Purpose, what I know now is that your congregation wants to be involved with what you are doing, pastor, not with what another senior pastor is doing. In fact, if your members are not already connected to each other in groups of some kind, I would venture to say the reason they attend your church other than Jesus is because of you. They like you. They like your teaching, your jokes, and your personality. When you offer your people more of what they already like — your teaching on a group curriculum — you will find greater interest and involvement in groups than ever before.
Mistake #3: Thinking Everyone Sees Small Groups Like You Do
Many pastors don’t want to be in a small group. Let’s face it. You’re busy. You have essentially a term paper due every week. You get called out at odd hours to help people. I’ve never met a lazy senior pastor. If there was one, then he got fired.
Small groups can be awkward for senior pastors. It’s risky for them and their spouses. If they talk openly about their personal struggles, where will those admissions go? Will open sharing somehow undermine their leadership in the church?
After 25 years of serving churches, I’ve come to understand that church staff, and especially senior pastors, are not normal. We are not like the rest of the congregation. We don’t focus on the things they think about. We aren’t motivated by the same things. Pastors have a unique calling on their lives that can only truly be understood by other pastors. What works for pastors is very different from what works for church members, and what works for church members is very different from what works for their pastors.
Senior pastors are surrounded by other believers on a daily basis. Every staff meeting is filled with believers. Every person they encounter in the office hallway is a believer. For the most part, the people they hang out with are believers. This is not the case with most people. They don’t have these regular interactions with other believers unless they worship with them, serve with them, and group with them.
Often pastors will feel guilty about promoting groups if they are not in a group. Here’s the deal: find something you can call “your group” and go with it. Whether it’s your foursome at golf or a pastor in a neighboring town you connect with, make that your group. You don’t have to do exactly what your members are doing, but you need to do something in community with other believers to set the example.
Mistake #4: Not Realizing the Benefit of Small Groups in Their Churches
If your church is larger than 250 people, then everybody can no longer know everybody any more. If your church is 400 or more and has two or more services, then your people can’t find the people they do know. But, the good news is everybody doesn’t need to know everyone, as long as everyone knows someone. This is where groups come in.
Much of the burden of care and support in your church could be served in groups. Imagine if the counseling appointments on your calendar disappeared because your people were caring for each other. Now, we all know that serious counseling cases would be referred to a professional counselor most likely anyway. But, those folks who need a listening ear, some encouragement, and prayer can find that in a group.
If groups are helping people grow as they study your curriculum, it may lessen the need for additional Bible studies or classes your congregation expects you to lead. Now, a word of caution here, don’t transition this too abruptly or you could have a mutiny. But, if you turn the heat up and talk for 90 minutes, your midweek Bible study will shrivel up in no time (just kidding…kind of).
Once people find their need for spiritual growth met in a group, some of the other offerings at your church will dwindle. Over time, they will disappear. The needs have changed. Imagine that day.
The pastors I know worry about a number of significant things in their church. Attendance, Spiritual Growth, Closing the Back Door, Outreach, and Finances are just a few. Research has shown that small groups meet all of these needs. In their recent book, Transformational Groups, Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger show how small groups are the solution for assimilation and spiritual growth. People in groups attend more often and serve more than people who are not in groups. And, group members also give more than other people in your congregation.
How should the senior pastor lead the groups ministry in the church? Take the charge. Create your own curriculum. Challenge your members to lead. By leveraging the weekend service to launch groups who study the pastor’s curriculum during the week, the church will grow and its people will grow. Senior Pastor, do you really think the small group pastor or director can do all of that alone?
Churches I’ve coached who’ve launched hundreds of new groups at a time were led by their senior pastor. Don’t blame your small group pastor for not doing your job. The church has only one leader. It’s time for you to step up.
I am offering a webinar for Senior Pastors on May 3-5, 2016. If you want to go big with groups in your church this Fall, you need to sign up. Don’t send a staff member. Register at allenwhite.org/webinars
By Allen White
The church wide campaign was introduced 14 years ago most famously by the 40 Days of Purpose and The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. Boy, the innovators and influencers who jumped into that one hit it big. I’ve heard stories of churches actually connecting more people into groups than they had on Easter Sunday. Those were crazy times.
There’s something great about being first. The first church to implement a new idea in a community usually reaps deep dividends. The first church in your town to introduce contemporary worship was probably looked upon with suspicion by other churches, but that church also outgrew all of their critics. Today, you can throw a rock and hit a church with contemporary worship. The same goes for seeker services, sermon note-taking sheets, or drama sketches in the service. (Okay, we gave up on drama sketches a long time ago. Not many could pull that off.)
But after all of these years, is the church-wide campaign still relevant?
1. Does Your Church Suffer from Church Wide Campaign Fatigue?
Some churches have overdone the church-wide campaign. They are aligning everything all of the time with the weekend service and making one big push after another. While the pastor will be preaching a sermon every weekend and small groups will be studying something, continuing to launch one church-wide campaign after another leads to campaign fatigue. The pastor just gets tired of promoting it, and the people get tired of hearing it.
If your church has successfully connected 30-50 percent or more of your groups using a church-wide campaign and the Host strategy, a church-wide campaign has probably lost its luster with your congregation. You’re not seeing the results you used to. While there are some exceptions, most churches can start off strong by running three church-wide campaigns in their first year, then they need to back off to one church-wide aligned series per year.
In the first year, groups need the continuity of starting with one campaign, then continuing into the next. But, once groups have made it through that first year, it’s harder to get them to align, which is okay. After all, the beauty of small groups is in the variety of things they can study, not in uniformity. There are some exceptions.
2. Who Should Continue Using Church Wide Campaigns?
Rapidly growing churches must continue running campaigns to recruit new leaders and form new groups just to keep up with the church’s dramatic growth. People who are new to the church need new groups to help them grow and find their way. Small groups are the best solution to the assimilation dilemma created in rapidly growing churches.
Churches in college towns or near military bases usually experience high turnover every year. Manna Church, Fayetteville, NC sits next to Fort Bragg. This church of 4,000 adults must replace 1,000 adults every year to maintain their current attendance. Church-wide campaigns have helped them start as many as 700 small groups at a time. What’s cool about this is the groups started at Manna Church are reassigned or deployed throughout the world. These small groups will soon become microsite churches. Churches with a revolving door like Manna’s can run church-wide campaigns from now until the cows come home.
3. Pre-Packaged Church Wide Campaigns Have Run Their Course.
Let’s face it. There is only one Rick Warren and one 40 Days of Purpose. I doubt we will ever see a phenomena like that again. While we cannot argue with the success of the second bestselling non-fiction book of all time, only part of the success of those church-wide campaigns came from the topic.
Granted a church must have a great topic to appeal to the community at large, but other factors also lead to the success of that first major church-wide campaign. Linking a small group study to the pastor’s sermon was certainly a key to success. While some might attribute connecting Rick Warren to the pastor’s sermon as the key here, I see it the other way.
Let’s face it, if people aren’t connected to each other, the reason they attend your church, other than Jesus Christ, is because of your Senior Pastor. They like his personality, jokes, and teaching. Now, don’t mention this to your worship pastor, it will break his heart. The Senior Pastor’s involvement with promoting 40 Days of Purpose and promoting small groups was the “It Factor” in the success of that campaign and any other. But, there is one more thing you can do for even more success.
4. Create Your Own Church Wide Campaign.
As I said, people like their Senior Pastors. If a church does a church-wide campaign with their pastor’s invitation for groups, they will recruit leaders and connect people into groups like never before. It’s a guaranteed home run, but it could be a grand slam home run.
In addition to their Senior Pastor’s leadership in recruiting group leaders and aligning a sermon series with a group study, if the Senior Pastor created a study with his own teaching, the church can hit the ball out of the park. Just in the last 12 months, I’ve seen churches recruit 20-25 percent of their adults to lead groups, which has put group participation well over 100 percent. By offering the pastor’s teaching on a video-based curriculum, the congregation is getting more of what they already like — their pastor’s teaching!
That might seem like a of work and a lot to figure out. I want to help you. I am putting together a six month coaching group specifically focused on creating your own curriculum and then launching the campaign in your church. You don’t need to pay someone tens of thousands of dollars to create curriculum for you. I can show you how you can do it yourself. If you would like more information, I am presenting a webinar called “Create Your Own Curriculum.” For specific times and registration: allenwhite.org/webinars or contact me at email@example.com.
Not everyone will see things this way. And, that’s okay. But, to state it honestly, not everyone is seeing the results I’ve seen in the last year. Last year, the average church I worked with launched 277 groups. This could be you (provided you have 277 people!).
For most churches, the pre-packaged campaign has gone the way of the dinosaur. If you’re still experience great success and have over 100 percent of your folks in groups, please correct me. For churches who’ve never tried a campaign, then buying one might help you make a good start. But, creating your own materials with your pastor’s teaching is the way of the future — it’s affordable, flexible, and best of all, it’s yours!
By Allen White
Today’s guest is Father Charlie Holt, the Rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and School in Lake Mary, FL. He is also the President of Bible Study Media, a non-profit Christian publisher. He is an instructor with the Institute for Christian Studies and serves as a collaborative partner with Pathways to Home, a ministry aiding homeless families in Central Florida. He and his wife, Brooke, have three children.
1. When I first met you a decade ago, your church launched a ridiculous number of groups based on your size for the 40 Days of Purpose. How did that come about? What happened?
Like many other churches, St. Peter’s participated in Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose. At the time we had about 260 people attending on a weekend. After watching the training videos by Rick Warren, our leadership team took Pastor Warren’s inspirational challenge to think exponentially. We added a “0” to our goal of having 10 small groups. So, we set a goal to have 100 small groups and 1,000 people participate. I think the truth is that we didn’t know how big of a goal we had set. We would need 50% of our member households to open up their homes and host a group!
The Lord blessed us abundantly, even though we did not reach the goal. What did happen is that 70 small groups were started with 700 participants–that is 300% of our average weekend attendance participating in the campaign! Over 65% of the people who did that campaign with us were not members of our church. We added 30 new families to our membership that year, and our operating budget grew by $100,000.
The 40 Days of Purpose taught me the evangelistic power of a small group campaign.
2. As an Episcopal priest, what is the uniqueness of launching groups in a liturgical church?
One of the great things about the liturgical church is the emphasis on alignment with the church year. We follow a seasonal approach that walks the entire congregation through the life of Christ. This means that there are certain seasons that really lend themselves to a small group emphasis. The 40-day period of Lent or the Great 50 days between Easter and Pentecost are wonderful times to call the entire church to consider the Gospel in community. A liturgical church is united by common prayer and common practices. This culture of community lends itself to church-wide focus. The challenge is that there are not many small group resources written with the liturgical church in mind.
3. Lake Mary, Florida, where you serve is a rather affluent community. How do you gain and keep your congregation’s attention on small groups with so many distractions in their lives?
This is a challenge of our day for Christianity in general. School, sports, and entertainment dominate the families’ focus and time. I believe the key first step is that I personally as a pastor have to model an alternative way of life for the people of the Lord. I need to live life in a small group so I can authentically experience the challenge and speak of it with my people.
Another strategy is to expose people to the small group concept in shorter bursts and smaller steps. Introduce people to the blessing of life lived in small group community without overwhelming them. A six-week study is a small enough commitment that a busy person could say yes. But it is long enough to break some patterns. The prayer and hope is that the blessings of life in community will outweigh the curses caused by over-commitment and over-scheduling. Always have a second step to offer for those who catch on.
4. You are the author of the Christian Life Trilogy. Why did you create this series for the Lenten, Easter, and Pentecost seasons?
The Christian Life Trilogy comes from a longing and desire to see the heart of the church renewed around the heart of God at the heart of the Christian year. As I said in an earlier answer, I have found it difficult to find solid biblical material that aligns with the patterns of the Christian liturgical calendar. Lent, Easter, and Pentecost tell the greatest story ever! We need some materials that take us through the core message of that journey with Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension purposefully, prayerfully, and reflectively. I pray that the individuals and congregations that use the Christian Life Trilogy materials will find themselves centered on the things of first importance—Jesus Christ, and Him crucified and raised from the dead. Let us die with Him, that we too may be raised to new life and filled with all of the fullness of God in the gift of the Holy Spirit.
5. Now that many churches of various sizes (including megachurches) and denominations have participated in the Christian Life Trilogy, what have you learned about launching groups in a church-wide campaign?
In the first year of its publication, the Trilogy had over 50 congregations from various denominations and contexts participate with over 4,000 participants. My observation is that the several congregations that really saw tremendous fruit were the ones that took the time to plan with prayer and intention.
The most impactful Church-wide campaigns take several months in advance of their launch to slowly, prayerfully, and methodically build a momentum toward a movement of God. A strong lay leadership team and the support of the church council is fundamental. It takes time to effectively clear the calendar of meetings and other agenda items without alienating your key leaders. If the senior pastor and a strong leadership team are focused with singular purpose on the Gospel and do a good job casting the vision to the people of God, the Lord will bless the effort and multiply His kingdom. God the Father loves it when His people focus on His Son!
5.5 Out of The Crucified Life, The Resurrected Life, and The Spirit-filled Life, which is your favorite?
I love the Spirit-Filled Life! It was the most fun to write and amazing to see implemented in my own congregation. I had a parishioner tell me that they thought the Crucified Life would be a tough sell. After all who really wants to pick up their cross? I think that is true. However, you can’t get to the Spirit-Filled Life until you have died with Christ. The pathway to full fellowship with God is through the Cross, Resurrection, and Holy Spirit.