My Exponential Group Failure

My Exponential Group Failure

Let’s connect over 100 percent of our adults into groups in 2019! Have you heard or declared that rallying cry yet? What’s the plan? How is this year’s plan different from last year’s plan, or is it just wishful thinking?

As a small group pastor, early December was usually the time of year for thinking ahead a little. Groups usually wound down into a few parties and the new study wouldn’t ramp up until January or February. December is a great time for discipleship pastors to coast. (But, don’t let this get out or else you’ll spend your time stuffing those little candles into their holders for the Christmas Eve service.)

Cracking the code of connection for 2019 would be easy if the expert’s advice was true. If the group leaders had apprenticed a new leader, then the year could start with twice as many groups. If groups were selfless enough to break up and start new groups, then more people could be connected. If the senior pastor was as excited about groups as about worship, then 2019 could be a banner year. Maybe this is the year for you to make a move to another church…

Everybody wants exponential growth. Few want to make the sacrifice. At this point, you either resign yourself to mediocrity or admit defeat. But, those aren’t the only two options.

Redefining Exponential

The idea of exponential growth lends itself to generational growth. Leaders develop leaders who develop leaders. If this were true, we would have groups, groups, and more groups. I never had that, and yet I connected 1,000 people into groups in a church of 800 adults. And, I helped a church of 2,500 people start 500 groups. But, nobody “multiplied” anything.

I love the idea of exponential growth. I could just never get there. So, I redefined exponential.

Brett Eastman tells the story of a challenge Bruce Wilkinson gave to Rick Warren on the eve of the first 40 Days of Purpose. Bruce had just returned from spending several years in Africa after the success of The Prayer of Jabez. His challenge to Rick Warren and Saddleback Church was to take whatever goal they were dreaming of and increase it 10 times by putting a zero on the end of the number. If the goal was 200 groups, then it would become 2,000 groups. If memory serves me, this was about the number of groups for that first 40 Days of Purpose at Saddleback in 2002. (If the details are a bit murky to some, then please forgive my recollection).

Instead of getting bogged down in the mire of leaders not developing apprentices and groups unwilling to birth/split/divorce, bypass all of this and just put a zero at the end of your 2019 goal. Trust God for 100 groups instead of just 10, and so forth. The idea is to set a goal that is impossible for you to achieve apart from God’s help. There is no sense in waiting five years for your group leaders to fail to multiply. Make it happen now. But, how?

Give Everyone a Promotion

In order for you to 10x your goal, you must prepare to receive what you are trusting God for. If you are not prepared when God delivers, then the increase will just be squandered.

If you are trusting God for 100 group leaders in 2019, then you will need someone to coach these leaders, and it’s too many for you to coach alone. For the sake of easy math, let’s say each coach takes on five new leaders. You will need 20 coaches. Where will the coaches come from? How many group leaders do you have right now?

All of your current group leaders will become coaches. They know enough to answer a new group leader’s questions. As long as their available to the new leaders, you’re in good shape. There is no magic in coaching. You just do the work.

If you’re like me, 20 coaches is a lot to track, so divide that group by 5 or so. This is your small group team. The team, in this case, is four leaders, who have five coaches each reporting to them. You can keep up with four people.

Who do you choose for your team? Simple. Consider all of the leaders who are doing a great job. Who has greater leadership potential? Who could do your job? (Remember, you’re giving yourself a promotion too). This is your team. Now, with a plan in place to coach new leaders to supervise new coaches…

Where Do the Leaders Come from?

It would be natural to assume that if the current small group leaders become coaches and small group team members, then the current small group members would become group leaders, right? Wrong. This is the problem we started with. Few want to give up their groups to start new groups. Don’t get stuck here.

I used to think that in order to have 100 groups in my church, I would need 1,000 members to join those groups. I no longer believe this. In order to have 100 groups in your church, you need 100 people who are willing to gather their friends and do a study together. The focus is on potential leaders, not potential group members.

How do you get 100 non-leaders to lead? First, you give them an easy-to-use study. Video-based curriculum works very well in this case. The person doing the study with their friends does not need to be a leader or teacher, and you don’t want them leading or teaching anyway. You want to give them the permission and opportunity they need to gather their friends (either in the church or outside of the church) and do a study together. Every church member is promoted to group leader. Their assignment is to lead the “group” of friends they are already a part of.

Last year a church of 600 in Baltimore launched 147 groups doing exactly this. If your people can gather their friends, then they have enough leadership ability to start a group. They probably don’t think of themselves as group leaders, so you can keep the terms “leader” and “group” to yourself. How many non-leaders could lead your non-groups in 2019?

What Keeps Us From Reaching Our Goals?

First, if you don’t think your goal is possible, then it isn’t.

Second, you don’t have to. Let’s face it, no one is holding a gun to your head and demanding that you get everybody in groups in 2019. Whether you launch ten new groups or 100 new groups, you’re still going to have a job. Who needs the stress, right?

Third, fear or blame. If I state an outrageous goal for 2019 and don’t achieve it, then won’t I be embarrassed or get blamed for the failure? (This is why you need to work with a church consultant – it’s always the consultant’s fault!).

What’s it going to be – Incremental growth or Exponential growth in 2019? If you’re ready to go for it, I can help you.

Should Groups Take a Break During Christmas?

Should Groups Take a Break During Christmas?

The Christmas season that starts with Thanksgiving and goes through New Year’s Day is pretty intense for Christmas-party1most of us. (Or does the season start at Halloween now?) Office parties, family gatherings, school functions, church services, shopping, shopping, shopping, cooking, cooking, cooking – boy, the list goes on. With all of this activity going on, should your group take a break? Well, a lot depends on your group. Here are a few things to think about:

1. Ask your group. While some people feel that they can barely come up for air during the holidays, others might experience a great deal of loneliness. Even though it’s a busy time, most people are still working every day and going about their daily routine. Before you decide to cancel, see what your group wants to do. If there are three or four who would like to meet, then you might consider meeting. Please note, however, that if your schedule has gone berserk, then it might be good to take a break for your own sake. But, make sure that your group is taken care of. Will someone spend Thanksgiving alone? Maybe a group member could include them in a family gathering.

2. Have a party. There is a healthy ebb and flow to small groups. Most groups can complete a study or two during the months of August through November, then will start again in January. Your group is not “more spiritual” by persisting in an inductive Bible study through the holidays. But, there is more to group that study. Having just completed a study or two in the Fall, your group has something to celebrate. Throw a party. This might even be a good time to invite prospective members and neighbors to check out the group and possibly join for your next study.

3. Serve together as a group. The holiday season offers many opportunities to serve the underprivileged in the community. Homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and children’s homes have a lot of needs, especially during the holidays. While many groups and organizations will help during the Christmas season, the reality is that these groups have needs year-round. Christmas is a great time to introduce your group to serving together. If they are interested, then plan to serve on a regular basis.

4. Give your group the next step. Some groups continue to meet during the holidays. That’s perfectly okay. Some groups decide to take a break. Some groups will follow one of the suggestions above. Whatever your group chooses to do, you will want to announce to your group when you will start again in January. They need to know that there is a next step. Announce your start date and maybe even your new study.

Beyond Church-wide Campaigns

Beyond Church-wide Campaigns

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.

Join Allen White for a Free Webinar: Beyond Church-wide Campaigns on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 3pm EST or Wednesday, Nov 14 at 12:30pm EST. CLICK HERE for more information

Turn Your Sermons into Small Group Studies

Turn Your Sermons into Small Group Studies

By Allen White

Many pastors are interested in creating their own video-based curriculum. But, they put it on the backburner because they feel the pressure of creating the next Purpose-Driven Life. Let me relieve some pressure for you – that’s not going to happen. There is both good and bad news in that statement.

The bad news is that you’re probably not in line to write the second bestselling non-fiction book of all time (second only to the Bible). But, the good news is you have content. When you think about your sermon files, digital, analog, or otherwise, you are loaded with content. But, how do you repurpose your vast content into curriculum?

1. Pick a Dominate Theme.

What are you passionate about? Look at the recurring themes in your past sermons and series. Do you teach about leadership, relationships, marriage, parenting, spiritual gifts, finances, or evangelism? What topics get you the most excited?

Several years back, we were working with a pastor in Bakersfield, California who wanted to write a book and video-based curriculum on relationships. His small group pastor and his assistant went treasure hunting for past sermons on the theme. They came up with an extra large banker’s box full of sermon files. The content was there. Now, it needed to be organized.

2. Choose Six Big Categories within the Theme.

For a series on relationships, the material could be sorted into “stacks” of topics like Connection, Communication, Conflict, Care…you can come up with two more categories beginning with the letter C. (I was headed toward cucumber and calamari.)

Once the content is sorted, then choose one key verse for each category and a few supplemental verses. I’m old school. I believe a Bible study should be based on the Bible.

If sermons are only available as audio or video files, get the sermons transcribed. A service like rev.com is accurate, efficient, and affordable. (It’s what I use).

3. Get to Work on Your Video Scripts.

Take the six categories and their verses and write a 10-minute script on each topic. Since sermons are often 30-45 minutes, then you’ll need to dial back the content. Videos longer than 10 minutes tend to become passive and will cause group members to zone out. Keep them engaged by keeping the video short.

After your scripts have been reviewed by the senior pastor, then prepare for your video shoot. Take the production as far as you can go. You can’t compete with professional studios, but your pastor on camera is far more meaningful than high production value. Don’t try to out Netflix, Netflix. If you need direction in creating video curriculum, curriculum coaching is available. If you prefer to hire a professional full production video team, check out my partners at All In Small Groups. Even if your videographers create amazing video, small group curriculum video is a different genre. It’s a bit of a learning curve, but help is available.

One word of advice: If you are planning to launch a New Year’s series with your own curriculum, shoot the video in mid-October to mid-November. If you wait until January, it’s too late. If your series will launch after Easter, then you should shoot the video in February. If your series is for Fall, then shoot in May/June, before everyone heads off for vacation. Don’t wait until August, or you’ll be in the weeds.

4. Write the Study.

Once the video is shot, then it’s time to write the lessons. I prefer to write after the shoot, because the video doesn’t change. Some pastors will want to see the study guide content before the shoot. Do whatever your pastor wants to do, but if you can write after the shoot, it will save you from a rewrite.

You know what curriculum is, so I don’t need to explain that. But, as you write in conjunction with the video, don’t ask obvious questions. Also, it’s a waste of time to ask questions about the main passage, since your pastor explained what the main passage means in the video. Nobody’s answer will top the pastor’s answer.

Write questions pointed toward how the group members’ personal experiences connect with the topic. Focus toward application. Your goal is to hit where the rubber meets the road, not where the rubber meets the air. Include some direct quotes from the video and base questions on these quotes. This will show the tie between the study guide and the videos.

If you need help with curriculum writing, enroll in the Writing Effective Curriculum Workshop that starts on October 31, 2018. Professional writing services for creating video scripts and study guides are also available.

5. Designing Your Curriculum.

Before you think about the design, decide on the format(s) for your curriculum. Will you offer printed study guides? Services like CreateSpace/Kindle Direct Publishing offer affordable print-on-demand services. If you use a service like this, download their guidelines and templates to make sure your designer is designing the book correctly. You might also consider your local printer. If your printer doesn’t print books, they probably have a relationship with another company who does. Again, begin with the end in mind. Start with the print specs and make sure your designer has these.

If your church has its own graphic designer, then start bringing him or her Starbucks every day starting immediately. Seriously, allow plenty of lead time. Keep in mind, most church graphic designers are overburdened with projects.

If you don’t have a graphic designer on staff, consider using a member of your congregation who may volunteer their time. Word to the wise: Look at samples of their work before you agree to let them design your book. If their work is a match, then proceed. If not, then a gentle refusal is in order. Even if you decide to use a member to design your book, only commit to one design project. If the person does great work and is easy to work with, then maybe use them again. If the work is not great or if the person is difficult, then count the cost before you use them again.

Final Thoughts

I could write a book on curriculum writing. I have learned a great deal over the years in my time working for Brett Eastman and Lifetogether Ministries. Personally, I have written curriculum for Chip Ingram, Doug Fields, Michael Phillips, and have produced series including The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren. All of that to say, I know the ins and outs of curriculum production. If you need help, I can help you.

If you would like to talk further about curriculum production or writing, please contact me at info@allenwhite.org. I’d love to share more pointers with you.

Why Writing Curriculum is Better Than Buying It

Why Writing Curriculum is Better Than Buying It

Why Writing Curriculum is Better than Buying It

By Allen White

With so much curriculum available on the market today, why write your own curriculum? Curriculum from publishers is written by professional, well-known authors. It has been thoroughly edited and proofed. The curriculum is designed and printed. All you need to do is buy it, right? While you can purchase the right study with the right topic (and without the work of creating your own), there are some distinct advantages to writing your own curriculum.

Integrate Your Church’s DNA into the Study

Published curriculum is written based on someone’s else’s doctrine, point of view, and even denomination. If those things align with your church, then published curriculum should be the way to go. But, even if the curriculum comes from your denomination, doctrinal statement, and point of view, it won’t reflect the vision and values of your church. Every church is unique. Even churches in the same tribes vary widely according to their region, their culture, their setting (urban, rural, suburban), their demographic, their ministry approach and so many other things.

You can hang your church’s mission statement on the wall, where everybody can see it, but few will remember it or live it out. Or, you can bake your vision and mission into every lesson your group members study and help them better apply your church’s vision and values to their lives.

Some churches will even name the main sections of their curriculum template after their church’s values. Let’s say your church’s mission is summed up as Connect, Grow, Serve (which is a great assimilation strategy, but is not a discipleship strategy. Read more here…). The icebreaker section of your curriculum could be the Connect Section. The Bible discussion could be the Grow Section. And, the application questions could be the Serve Section. This is not a great example, but you get it.

In order to reinforce your church’s values and take your people deeper into your church’s interaction with the community, writing your own curriculum will remind people of where the church is headed. Vision leaks. Your curriculum can recast vision on a weekly basis.

Motivate Your People to Do and Not Just Talk

A great deal of published curriculum focuses on a knowledge-based approach to discipleship. Don’t get me wrong. God gave us a book and a brain. That’s not a coincidence. Reading and studying the Bible is important. But, living out what the Bible says is even more important. After all, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).

Often published curriculum leads people into gaining more knowledge about the Bible and a greater understanding of the meaning of the text. But, is it changing their lives? D.L. Moody put it this way, “The Bible was not given for our information but for our transformation.” If your people are growing in knowledge, but lacking in transformation, there is a problem with how they are studying the Bible.

By writing your own curriculum, you can help your members set weekly goals for themselves, participate in specific community projects, or take on an assignment to apply your Bible study where the rubber meets the road instead of where the rubber meets the air.

As Howard Hendricks said, “Most believers are educated well beyond their level of obedience.” By writing your own studies and directing your members toward lesson outcomes that focus more on obeying God’s direction rather than outcomes focused on mere education, you will take them closer to Jesus’ instructions to “teach them to obey all I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).

Include Future Leader Development

Curriculum does not need to serve just the single purpose of Bible study. You can integrate leadership development into each study. Rather than spending hours training group leaders to develop apprentices, you can put the leader training directly into the group study. Write questions that will help group members get further involved in the group. Nothing is off limits. Ask group members, in the lessons, to share responsibilities for the group like facilitating the discussion, leading a prayer time, opening with an icebreaker, hosting the group in their homes, bringing refreshments, organizing a serve project, or planning a social event. Group leaders can delegate everything they are currently doing to the group members. The only thing they can’t delegate is the responsibility for the group.

By including these instructions in the actual lessons, even if the leader is reluctant to ask group members to participate, the curriculum asks for them. If you provide a sign up sheet or calendar for group members to record their assignments, then it’s all set. The leader no longer has to carry the entire burden of serving the group. The members will feel greater ownership for the group. Future leaders will be identified and developed to lead future groups.

You have to do this yourself. Very little published curriculum includes small group leadership strategies as part of the lessons.

Reduce Your Curriculum Costs

Published curriculum is expensive. The average study guide will range from $8-$20 per person. While that’s merely the price of a good cup of coffee or two, for some people and for most budgets, curriculum costs are expensive. If your curriculum is video-based, then you’re probably shelling about another $25-$35 for DVDs or streaming video. Fortunately, this is not the only way.

By creating your own curriculum, you can output your lessons as a pdf and upload your videos to Youtube. There is very little cost. If you want to up the ante and provide a professional looking study guide for an alignment series or church-wide campaign, services like Amazon’s CreateSpace offer print-on-demand services. For instance, my All In study costs $2.34 per copy. You can publish books on Kindle for free or upload video to Amazon Direct Video and not charge anything. You could even use a digitally interactive format like Connector.org which integrates video and print content.

Creating your own curriculum will not only reduce costs, but will provide flexible formats for your groups. For more information on creating curriculum teaching videos, go here.

Keep What’s Important in Front of Your Groups

Publishers care about providing quality resources to help your group members interact with God’s Word. They use very gifted, well-known teachers and speakers to produce these resources. They can do a lot of things that most church’s can’t. But, there is something they cannot do.

Publishers cannot customize their curriculum for your church. But, you can. As I stated before, you can integrate your church’s mission, vision, and values into every lesson. You can lead your people toward serving your community by including details of upcoming outreach events in the lessons. Even better, you can lead the group through a discussion on serving and outreach with your serving opportunity as the outcome of the lesson. You can train your group members to become group leaders by including your leadership training in the actual lessons instead of a page in the appendices of your book.

I’m not saying to avoid published curriculum. But, I do want you to consider the possibilities of writing your own curriculum. It’s your responsibility to lead your people, not a publisher’s responsibility.

This fall I am offering a 4-week Writing Effective Curriculum Workshop. For more information, click here.

Free Mini-Course on Recruiting Leaders

Join our mailing list to receive Allen's latest thoughts on small groups.

You have Successfully Subscribed!