These are the Most Read Posts for allenwhite.org in August 2011:
By Allen White
1. How Do You Know When God is Speaking to You?
2. Are You Discipling Your Online Followers?
3. Why Bother? (Smallgroups.com article)
4. The Power and Potential of Small Groups By Brett Eastman
5. How Can I Get My Group to Share at a Deeper Level?
6. How to Beat Small-Group Burnout
7. Is Pornography Adultery?
8. Is Worship in Small Groups Even Possible?
9. Connecting the Last 30 Percent: Engaging Introverts (3-Part Series)
10. How Do We Balance Developing Relationships and Completing Lessons in a Group?
These are the Most Read Posts for allenwhite.org in August 2011:
By Allen White
Rapidly growing groups during a church-wide campaign has a very positive upside. New leaders get their gifts in the game. New people are connected into new groups. Relationships are developed. Believers are disciple. There are awesome results all around. The problem comes in caring for new leaders when your coaching structure is already overwhelmed. Where do you get new coaches?
I ran into this problem a few years ago, when we doubled the number of our small groups in one day. We didn’t feel we were adequately coaching the first half. Now, we needed to help an equal number of newbies. Then, the light bulb turned on – if half of the groups are new and half of the groups are experienced, we just needed to match them up. We created a “buddy system” with experienced leaders helping new leaders. Never let a good crisis go to waste.
Over the years, this coaching strategy was finessed into an intentional approach rather than a last ditch effort. In advance of a new church-wide campaign, we expect dozens, if not hundreds, of new leaders or hosts to step forward. Otherwise, why would we do a church-wide campaign? In anticipation of this new growth, we also know that we will need new coaches to encourage the new leaders. Where do we get the new coaches?
At least a month before we start recruiting new leaders and host homes, we gather all of our existing leaders for a “Sneak Peek” event to reveal the Fall campaign curriculum. This is a great way to rally the troops and get our existing groups in on the new series. We explain all of the details of the series. We cast vision for new people connecting in groups and for new leaders starting new groups. Then, we present an opportunity for our existing leaders to walk alongside a new leader just for the six week campaign. Notice that we don’t use the word “coach” at this point.
The ask goes like this: “Once upon a time, you were a brand new leader who had a lot of questions and a few fears about starting a new group. Some of you had a coach. Some did not. All of us need someone in our corner to encourage us, to pray for us, and to answer our questions. Would you be willing to do that for a new leader or group host during this next series? The commitment starts when the leader attends the host briefing and goes through the six week campaign.” And, our existing leaders sign up to help every time.
The job description is simple. We ask them to do three things: (1) Pray for the new leaders. (2) Contact them every week in a way that’s meaningful to the new leader (not in a way that’s merely efficient for the new coach). (3) Answer their questions.
During the New Host Briefing, I match the new leaders and group hosts with their new “coach.” Usually I start the meeting by introducing the series content and the timeline, then I tell the new leaders, “Now, I would like to introduce some very important people to you who are going to help you get your group started. They will be available to answer all of your questions as you’re getting started.” I introduce the new “coaches” and pair them up with the new leaders according to the type of group they are starting or the geographical region where they live. The “coaches” take over the meeting at this point and give the new leaders all of the details of how to gather their group, what to do the first night, and answer any questions they have already. They exchange contact information and the “coaching” begins.
After the six week campaign, we check in with the new “coaches” about their experience. We ask three key questions:
- How important do you feel you were to the new leaders?
- How easy was it to keep in contact with the new leaders?
- Which of the new groups plan to continue?
The results are uncanny. If the new “coach” has the ability to coach, the answers are always come out: “My help was very important to the new leaders. Contacting them was easy. Most of the groups continued.” If the new “coach” doesn’t have it, the responses are: “My help wasn’t important. Contact was difficult. Most of the groups will not continue.” There is very little middle ground.
For the new coaches that answer positively, we invite them to continue coaching. For those who answer negatively, we thank them for serving for six weeks, and let them go back to leading their groups. You might be asking, “But, isn’t it risky to give a new leader to an inexperienced coach?”
It’s risky working with people period. Personally, I’d rather hire staff to do all of the coaching, but who has the budget for that? What’s more risky is sending out a new leader or group host without a coach. The payoff here is that new groups will be established, and new coaches will be recruited.
I’ve stopped recruiting with a job description over coffee. I don’t always do a great job choosing coaching candidates. What I have learned is that sometimes the most unlikely people make the best coaches and leaders. Let the trial run define who has what it takes to coach.
Other Great Coaching Resources:
By Allen White
Every person in your group has different expectations for your group, whether they realize it or not. Some folks were in a group before and long for the good old days of comfortable koinonia. Others were over-sold on groups: “You’ll make your new best friend.” For whatever reason they joined or what they expect, the key to successful group life is a thoroughly-discussed and well-articulated group agreement.
1. The Key Word is “Agreement.”
An effective group agreement has input from the whole group, and a decision for the group ground rules is made together. You are not asking your members to sign a contract that you put together for them. If you impose an agreement on them, you may get compliance, but you won’t necessarily get buy-in from the group. Don’t wonder why no one is honoring an agreement they didn’t help to create.
Forming a group agreement doesn’t need to be a lengthy or hectic process. In a relaxed atmosphere, just get everybody’s ideas on the table. Decide on the group’s values together. What’s important to the members? When and where will the group meet? How will the group provide childcare, if they do? What will the group study? How will the studies be chosen? How will the group spend their time together?
While there are a number of great templates out there, your group agreement needs to fit your group. Imposing someone else’s agreement on your group just doesn’t cut it. Examples can be helpful, but you’re not looking for a good document, you’re aiming for a great group.
2. Everyone Knows What to Expect.
A group agreement puts all of the members on a level playing field. They know what’s acceptable and what’s out of bounds. From basic, but important, items like when the meeting with start and end, the group will know what to count on. If members need to get back to work or put kids to bed on a school night, they will know when it’s acceptable to leave.
More importantly, the group agreement insures things like confidentiality. What’s said in the group stays in the group. Broken confidences and gossip are group killers. If the group has a party, what will they be drinking or not drinking? If your group doesn’t know if any of its members are in recovery, that’s an important conversation to have.
How will the group meeting run? While the meeting doesn’t have to be the same every week, the members do need to know what to expect. My group meets in a restaurant for lunch. If we order from a menu, then we order, discuss the lesson, eat when the food comes, and then pray together. If it’s more of a “fast food” place, then we eat first and ask questions later.
3. Everyone Knows What is Expected of Them.
Some people are reluctant to join groups because they fear being asked to do something they just aren’t comfortable with. Will they have to pray aloud? Will they have to read aloud? What if they don’t read very well? The group agreement helps them understand if these things are voluntary or mandatory.
If a member has to miss the group, what is his responsibility to the group? Should he call or not worry about it? If it’s important that the member informs the group, then put that in your agreement.
As the leader, you shouldn’t do everything for your group. It’s just not healthy, and it robs others of opportunities to serve in ministry. If your group intends to pass around the responsibilities for leading the discussion, hosting the group, bringing refreshments, lead worship, follow up on prayer requests, and whatever else you can give away, your agreement should include the expectation that every member would serve in some way.
Again, what are the values of your group? What is expected of each member? Decide together and let everyone know up front in the agreement.
4. Group Agreements Must Be Reviewed.
Your group agreement will not stand the test of time. Circumstances change. Groups change. While you would always include things like confidentiality and shared responsibility, your meeting day, place, time, study and so forth will change over time. Group agreements should be reviewed at least once per year to make sure that it’s still working for everybody.
5. Group Agreements Help When New Members Join.
It’s important to review key items in your group agreement when new members join your group. You don’t have to recite the entire agreement, but important things like confidentiality, child care details, and so on should be shared with new members. This doesn’t have to be formal. “Just to let you know, our group is like Las Vegas. Whatever is said here stays here” or “We’re going to order our food, then get into our discussion. When the food arrives, expect a little silence, then we’ll close with prayer needs.”
6. Agree on the Agreement.
While it’s good to have your group agreement written down somewhere, you don’t need to have it notarized or have your attorney present. I have seen some groups give their agreement a simple thumbs up. I’ve seen others sign it like the Declaration of Independence. Do whatever works for your group. Some folks are resistant to words like “covenant,” so “group agreement” or “ground rules” would work better for most.
I recently bought the board game “Sorry” for my family. We read all of the rules, but to limit frustration with my young children, we modified a few of the rules. They don’t need the exact number to move their pawn home. That works for us now. Later on, we might need to up the difficulty of the game. You see there are the official rules, and then there are the house rules. Your group agreement should be the house rules for your group. The rules may change over time, but the most important thing is that the rules work for the whole group right now.
By Allen White
If your church has 30 percent or better in small groups, then you are among the top five percent of churches in the nation. If small group ministry was a numbers game, then you could rest on your laurels and take it easy. But, how many people are actually connected to your church?
For most churches, Easter reveals the true attendance of a church. Easter is the day that everyone who attends your church shows up all at once. On average, there are at least 30 percent more folks on Easter than on a typical Sunday. At Brookwood Church, Simpsonville, SC, where I serve, we average about 4,000 adults on Sunday, but had 7,500 adults on Easter. The bottom line is that once you do the math, there is a lot of work to do. So, this Fall we are challenging our groups to take a six-week “vacation” from their group. The entire group will leave to start new groups, and then return at the end of the study.
Sure, you could try to assimilate prospective group members into existing groups, but that creates a certain amount of weirdness for both sides. New people usually do best in new groups. But, to have new groups, you need new leaders. As Steve Gladen writes in his book, Small Groups with Purpose, “We have discovered tomorrow’s leaders are today’s group members.”
Small group members who are cozy in the groups won’t like this idea. But, what if they could help start a new group and not leave their existing group? Here’s how it works:
1. Ask Your Entire Group to Start a New Group.
Give your groups the information about the unconnected folks in your church. Tell them about the additional 30 percent who showed up at Easter, but to your knowledge aren’t connected. Ask them to consider taking a break from the group, not for the rest of their lives, but for a six-week series this Fall.
If you use a DVD curriculum, it’s very easy to facilitate. They don’t need to be a Bible scholar or to have been a Christian for 50 years. The teacher is on the DVD. They know what it means to be in a group. By stepping out of the group for six weeks, a group of say 10 people could form four or five new groups and potentially impact 40-60 people over the six-week series.
2. Send Them Out in Pairs.
As your leaders look around their groups, they will probably have some misgivings about a few of their group members. They would be hesitant to send them out on their own and have them lead a group. Send them out anyway, but send them with someone who is stronger. Jesus sent His disciples out in pairs (Luke 10:1). That’s a pretty good precedent.
The other side of this is that as group leaders, we don’t always see the potential of our group members. Some of the most unlikely people make the best small group leaders. Don’t doubt what God can do with a willing heart.
3. Fill Up Four to Eight New Groups.
The greatest fear in sending out group members is the fear of failure. Equip your group leaders and members by sharing these opportunities to connect with prospective members:
• Use the Circles of Life. This is a great tool developed by Brett Eastman to identify potential group members from the folks that they already know. Ask the group members to consider co-workers, neighbors, acquaintances, relatives and friends, who would enjoy or benefit from the study. They don’t even need to attend your church.
Start by brainstorming names, then make this a prayer list. Once they’ve prayed, make this a personal invitation list.
• Use the Church’s Website. Make sure that every new group is listed on the website. Many prospective members can locate a group near their house with the mapping feature or zip code look up. The web can also be used at a on-campus connection event.
• Ask for a List. Provide your group members with lists of prospective members that live near them. A zip code search of the church database would be a great place to start. This is a bit of cold calling, but don’t make it that. Send out invitations for a small group open house. Everybody likes a party. Then, at the open house invite them to join the group for the six-week series.
• Participate in the Small Group Connection. Set a day and time for prospective members to meet new small group leaders and join the groups. Over the years, we have done this in the church lobby or on the church lawn after the service or held mixers on an evening. The important thing is to create an opportunity for prospective members and group leaders to meet face to face in a relaxed setting. In 30 seconds, prospects can get an idea of whether or not they want to spend six weeks with a leader.
4. Make Sure that They All Leave the Group.
Our home group in California did a six-week vacation a few years back. Half of the group agreed to go out and start a new group for the six-week series. The other half decided to stay. We liked them, so we let them. Big mistake.
Guess who left the group, and guess who stayed? All of the extroverts started new groups for the series. All of the introverts stayed in our group. It was a much quieter group. And, we had problems getting new members to join our group for the six weeks.
We asked, “Who are your friends?” Silence. We asked, “Who do you know that would enjoy or benefit from this study?” Silence. Our little group of introverts did the study together, and then was grateful when our more boisterous folks returned.
5. Help Them Scout Prospective Leaders in the New Group.
The hope is that the new group will be successful, but if the new leader returns to the existing group, what will happen to the new group? The key is identifying someone to take the group after the six-week study. Who is the group important to? Who attends every week or lets you know when they can’t? Who has leadership potential? This would be a good place to start.
Passing around the leadership in the group meeting is also a great test of leadership. While someone may not feel that they are a leader, if they have an opportunity to lead a lesson, it will show the group leader and them their true leadership potential. Ask everyone in the group to lead for one lesson, host the group in their home, and bring refreshments. This will also help the new leader.
Midway through the study, offer another study as a next step for the group. Groups that like each other will be eager to continue on together. Groups that don’t like each other should end immediately.
6. Enjoy the Blessing of Introducing Others to Group Life.
People who have never experienced community in church, now can have what you enjoy every week. By inviting them to join a brand new group, you are giving them a precious gift. While they could join an existing group, the experience is much like getting married and having in-laws. Interpretation: it’s not always warm and fuzzy. A new study in a new group is a great start for new members.
You can breathe new life into your existing group. Over time every group atrophies a bit. Members move away or their schedules change. Then, it takes more effort to add to your group. It’s not impossible. It’s just challenging. With the six-week vacation, you can easily add new members, since you are essentially starting a new group. The new members have six weeks to bond before the established members return.
You can discover the potential of your group members to lead. Some of your group members might not return to your group. They may decide to stay with the new group after the six weeks. You can stay connected with them by becoming their coach. You already have a relationship with them, so that just makes sense. While most of us don’t want to see our friends leave, we also don’t want to hold them back from an opportunity where God can use them.
Small groups, like churches, are living things. People come and go. Groups serve different purposes for different seasons. Some groups last for decades. Other groups hold on for a couple of years, then part ways. There is no right or wrong. The key is to keep moving in the right direction and to be open to letting God use you to serve others.
By Allen White
Connecting in Communities is smart on many levels. Eddie Mosley gives us not just the ‘what’, but also the ‘why’ and ‘how’. He is not a philosopher or a demagogue. He is a practitioner with a heart for God and a heart for people. You can tell that Eddie didn’t write this book merely to sell books. He has a genuine passion for small groups and for helping other pastors and group directors.
First, Eddie shows how he has consulted with the best of the best in small group thinking and practice: Steve Gladen of Saddleback Church, Carl George, aka Small Group Yoda, Bill Donahue of Willow Creek, Bill Willits of North Point and many others. Why reinvent the wheel when you can build on the knowledge and experience of others? After carefully gleaning from these thought-leaders, Eddie does an even smarter thing — he adapts the best of these models to his church’s mission and culture.
Too many pastors are looking for a silver bullet out there that will be the one-size-fits-all, homerun solution that will address every issue and help every person grow spiritually. That silver bullet doesn’t exist. Eddie wisely integrates what works for others into what works for his church, LifePoint. In the book, we read about the host home strategy, the GroupLink strategy, the neighborhood strategy, the free market strategy among others. LifePoint has adjusted the strategies to fit the life of the church rather than adjusting the church to fit someone else’s strategy. Too many pastors are prone to throwing out what is working for some and replacing it with what might or might not work at all. LifePoint adds to their success by implementing additional strategies for success. They are in favor of whatever works rather than whoever is right. This is the smartest thinking to come along in a long time.
What makes the book even better is that Eddie shares stories, positive and negative, from his own experience. He is not writing from an ivory tower. He’s writing from the trenches. He lives where his reader lives. His humility in sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of groups is refreshing and encouraging.
Connecting in Communities is the new primer for small group ministry. Whether you are just starting out in leading groups or you’re in need of a course correction, this book will inspire and inform you of some of the best practices in small group ministry today. The only thing that might have made this book better is if it were mine. Not that I would have done a better job, I would just love to have the credit.
Get your copy of Connecting in Communities.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen
Leading Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen