Video-based small group curriculum has been with us for a while now. Early innovators like Rick Warren and the team at Saddleback Church brought the local pastor into the living room. This proved to be an easy way to start groups and an easy way for group leaders to prepare for meetings.
With all of the professionally produced video curriculum out there, why would a church want to create their own? While well-known pastors have produced some excellent studies, your pastor’s face on the screen presents some strong advantages for your congregation.
Help People Take Their Weekend Experience into the Week.
The hustle and bustle of life tends to edge out the Sunday morning sermon after a day or so. While some sermons are remembered better than others, most are long forgotten by mid-week. By providing small groups with studies based on the weekend message, the points made on Sunday can take deeper root.
By creating space in the small group to review the weekend message via a short video (no more than 10 minutes), the group has a chance to review the points, ask questions, discuss issues, and make a specific application to their lives. Giving groups the opportunity to think about the message and what it means to them causes the group members to retain more. In groups they can involve more of themselves in the teaching. Rather than simply listening and maybe taking notes, group members can wrestle with hard questions and get the encouragement and accountability they need to live out the message.
Producing Your Own Curriculum Engages the Senior Pastor.
A senior pastor without a teaching gift is not a senior pastor for long. This is the most public and most personal role of any senior pastor. Speaking is hard work. Even the most gifted teachers spend hours gathering material, studying, collecting illustrations, and polishing their messages. Once Sunday is finished, for most pastors, the countdown clock to next week’s sermon begins. The one they worked so hard on for this week is now a thing of the past. But, it doesn’t have to be.
What if the pastor could sit down in a living room with his church members and teach them the part he couldn’t get to on Sunday morning? What if in that circle the pastor could share his heart about what the Bible passage means and what it would mean if people started obeying it? A video-based curriculum can breathe new life into a message destined for the archives. Not only will the congregation learn more, but the message will go farther through the group.
The Senior Pastor’s Involvement Elevates the Role of Groups.
For most churchgoers, the initial draw to a church is the pastor’s teaching and the music. As hard as the other church staff work in their roles, this is the simple truth. The senior pastor plays a highly significant role in the spiritual lives of his congregation.
By connecting the small group study to the weekend message, you can leverage the influence of the senior pastor in leading his people to connect in small groups. Once the pastor has created a video curriculum, his next question will be “How do we use this? How do we recruit more leaders? How do we get people into groups?” Don’t you want your senior pastor asking those questions?
What’s important to the senior pastor will be what’s important to the congregation. Bulletins, video announcements, website – none of these come close to having the #1 influencer in the church direct the congregation. When the pastor asks for people to host groups, people will host groups. When the pastor invites members to join groups, members will join groups. When E.F. Hutton talks…
I learned this lesson over a decade ago. I had spent seven years recruiting and training leaders to find only 30 percent of our congregation in groups. But, the first time our senior pastor stood up and asked for host homes, we doubled our groups in one day. I never looked back. He did all of the recruiting and leading from that point forward. I have not recruited a group leader myself since 2004, even though I have served in another church since then.
Take the Weekend Message Beyond the Church Walls.
When church members invite their friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives and others to join them for a church-produced Bible study, the senior pastor is introduced to many more people than actually attend the church on Sunday. In homes, workplaces, Starbucks and even commuter trains, the pastor’s teaching goes out to many new people.
Often new people will meet the pastor via video before they meet him in person. But, the transition from the living room to the church auditorium now is not quite as daunting. New folks feel they’ve already met the pastor through the weekly group studies. And, don’t tell the group hosts and leaders, but they’re actually doing evangelism. Shhh.
A Simple Teaching Tool Multiplies Small Group Potential.
A video curriculum is easy to use. In fact, someone who has never led before simply needs to follow the instructions. The teaching on the video provides the wisdom and expertise. The questions in the book provide the pathway for a great discussion. Pushing play and reading questions is not so hard.
Think about this: every person in your church has friends. The people who are less involved in the church will actually have far more friends outside of the church. What if your church members each gathered a group of 8-10 people for a video-based study featuring your senior pastor? Could a church of 100 members reach 1,000 people? What about a church of 1,000 going after 10,000? What about a church of 13,000 reaching over 100,000? Is it possible? The Bible says all things are possible with God.
Multiplying small groups is difficult. Multiplication involves developing leaders within a group in an effort to start new groups. Some methods of multiplication involve group members leaving the group to start new groups. “Multiplication” really becomes a euphemism for division. For many groups in North America, multiplication like this is unwelcome.
Many churches I’ve coached and the two churches I served on staff have experienced multiplication efforts as subtraction. We weren’t multiplying groups. We were losing groups because no one wanted to multiply. Or, more accurately, we were losing the opportunity to multiply.
In my days of handpicking group leaders, pushing an apprentice model, and encouraging group multiplication, I faced considerable pushback. Members didn’t want to leave groups. Group leaders couldn’t identify an apprentice. I ran out of people to handpick. Our groups were stuck with only 30 percent of our congregation connected into groups. Then, out of frustration, we discovered something that worked.
1. Stop Recruiting Leaders.
I have not personally recruited a small group leader since 2004 (and I served a whole other church since then). How do you multiply groups without recruiting leaders? You engage the senior pastor. Whether you hand a copy of Transformation Groups to your pastor to show him how groups can solve most of your church members’ needs or create video-based curriculum with your senior pastor’s teaching, there is no better spokesperson for groups than the senior pastor.
When we created a video-based curriculum that aligned with my pastor’s message series, we were giving our people more of what they already wanted – our pastor’s teaching. When he stood up on a Sunday morning and invited people to open their homes and host a group, we doubled our groups in one day. Semantics aside, we had never seen groups multiply so fast.
Small group pastors and directors at best will recruit only 30 percent of the leaders that the senior pastor is able to recruit. How do I know? After seven years of personally making the invitation to lead, our church had only 30 percent in groups. When my senior pastor made a similar invitation, our groups jumped from 30 percent to 60 percent the first time around. Within six month, we had 125 percent of our average adult attendance in groups. My pastor recruited every leader from 31-125 percent.
2. Stop Coaching Leaders.
Up until the day our groups doubled, I coached all of the leaders myself. In many ways, I had become the “lid” on our small group ministry. The limited number of groups we had at that point was a true reflection of my leadership. As Andy Stanley says our system was perfectly designed to achieve the results we were getting. We were stuck because I was the bottleneck, so I stopped coaching the leaders.
Instead, I handpicked a leadership team of six coaches to help me lead the small group ministry. This felt like a risky move because things were moving so fast that I couldn’t keep up. As their pastor, I had to admit that I didn’t have it all figured out and that I needed them to figure this out with me. They were up for the challenge. We led together, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. They coached the leaders. I led the leadership team. Our groups multiplied.
3. Stop Assigning People to Groups.
There are a lot of reasons to assign people to groups. It’s efficient. It’s easy. It helps to prevent combinations of troublemakers from meeting together. It’s a pure expression of control. Yikes!
Assigning people to groups, sign up cards, websites, and group directories are all efficient ways to place people in groups, but they aren’t effective. The wheels fall off these efforts simply because these are task-oriented approaches in forming relationally-based groups. Do you see the problem?
By placing people into groups, we are setting them up on a blind date, if you will. Most people don’t enjoy blind dates. It’s awkward. It’s stressful. It rarely works out. The same is true of small group “blind dates.”
Instead, when people offer to host a new group, their first job is to recruit people to join their group. By making a list of people they know, praying over the list, and personally inviting these folks, groups filled up quickly and stayed together for a second study. Make opportunity for those who aren’t invited to a group to meet the group leaders and join a group. In a church of 800 adults, we connected 1,000 into groups without sign up cards, websites, or directories. In the churches I coach (both larger and smaller) this has proved effective in forming lasting groups.
4. Stop Training Apprentices.
We broke the rule of attempting to recruit and train one apprentice. I learned from Brett Eastman and Lifetogether to “apprentice” the entire group. Everyone chose a responsibility to host the group in their home, lead all or a portion of the study, bring refreshments, plan outreach events and parties. Potential leaders were much easier to identify when they were put into action rather than picked out of a lineup.
As groups grew, some left to start a new group. There was no mandatory splitting of groups. They just got too big for the houses they were meeting in.
Honestly, 14 years ago, I didn’t believe this would be my story. Once we implemented the principles I shared here, I couldn’t believe how easy it was to multiply groups. Now, I’ve seen this story multiplied across over 1,500 churches that I’ve had the privilege of coaching.
[Dear Readers – Do you ever have thoughts that you can’t get away from? For a few years now, I have almost resisted writing about some things that have been stirring deep inside me. Also, over that time period, a number of events as well as ministry startups in various sectors have confirmed many of the things I’ve been sensing. Over the next month or so, I will post some of these thoughts. What I am writing should not be taken as an indictment of any ministry or methodology. I am sincerely inviting you to wrestle with some things I’ve been wrestling with. I would appreciate having you join the conversation.]
Megachurch, as we know it, is not the future. In an increasingly secularized society, the tolerance for more “big box” churches will decrease. Churches are already viewed by municipalities as heavily reliant on city resources, yet do not pay taxes. In fact, some of their prime locations could generate more revenue as a Costco. I foresee zoning as a continual obstacle.
Speaking of taxes, while I don’t see tax deductions for charitable contributions disappearing, the new tax law makes most people’s charitable contributions irrelevant in regard to their taxes. Since the standard deduction has increased to $24,000, for many households their mortgage interest, charitable giving, and medical expenses aren’t going to top that amount. Now, I’m not a CPA, but the math is pretty simple to pencil in. If giving no longer offers a tax advantage, then how will giving be impacted? If giving decreases, then what happens to capital campaigns and building projects?
Then, we could go back and ponder the question asked by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson in The Externally-Focused Church (Group Publishing 2004): If your church disappeared from your community would you be missed? Does your community rely on your church? Do you pick up the slack where government services lack? Can you serve the under-served in your community? Or, does your building provide a meeting place for weekend gatherings, then sit empty the rest of the week?
The climate is changing. I haven’t even mentioned those churches who are fighting a culture war that’s already been lost. I also didn’t bring up a moral majority that’s become an oxymoron.
The strategies that served us well over the last 25 years are not going to do the same in the next 25 years. It’s time for a shift.
The “hero” in any church is the member, not the pastor. The best representation of the impact and ministry of the church is the individual member. Members will determine the effectiveness of the church’s outreach. While churches can have a great location, in the churches I’ve served, we found that less than 2 percent found their way into our church from merely passing by. About the same went for paid advertising, social media, or other forms of advertising. How well does your church make disciples? There is nothing more attractive than a believer whose life has been transformed inviting a friend who’s noticed their life change.
When you look out at your congregation on Sunday morning, do you see an audience or an army? If it’s an audience, then they need to be entertained. The concern is over comfort and convenience. If you perform well and offer a good experience, then the hope is they will return.
But, if you see them as an army, that’s a different story. Your army needs to be equipped and empowered to serve. They don’t need to be catered to. They don’t need to be fretted over. They need marching orders. They need permission and opportunity to live out what God has called them to do.
The focus changes from gathering to scattering. For the last 25 or more years, we have gathered well, but scattered poorly. It’s time for a change.
Flexible, Unrestricted Gatherings
About six years ago, in a conversation with Josh Surratt, Lead Pastor at Seacoast Church, he mentioned a family from their church who had moved to Maine. Every Sunday morning, they gathered with about 40 friends and neighbors in their living room to watch the service at Seacoast together. My immediate reaction, “Well, maybe it’s time to redefine a ‘campus.’”
Conversations like this led to the idea of microsite churches. In my initial brainstorming with my friend, Brett Eastman, we imagined smaller communities or places where multisite churches wouldn’t build a campus. What if the service via steaming video was brought into homes, restaurants, or smaller meeting places to serve these areas? The microsites would rely on unpaid staff to manage them, but with connection and support from larger organization.
One of the first places we saw develop these microsites was NewSpring Church in South Carolina. They took a little different spin on the idea by using “houses campuses” as a trial balloon to determine whether a community could support a viable multisite campus eventually. It was essentially planting a multisite campus with a less expensive, less risky trial run. We also interacted with the folks at The Rock Church in San Diego, who had heard from people who were not comfortable walking onto their main campus on Sunday morning. So, they multiplied 50 microsites in venues where these folks felt more comfortable gathering. This included bars, night clubs, and other locations. Read more about the early days of microsites.
By developing a microsite strategy with online video and support, there is no limit to a church’s potential to reach any community that can provide someone to pioneer the work. Once the strategy has created a unit of one, then the sky’s the limit. Locations can easily be rolled out in same language communities or translated into other languages and cultures. Potentially, these flexible, unrestricted gatherings can multiply without church-owned property or paid staff. As long as their kept small and taught to multiply, securing larger gathering spaces is unnecessary.
Meaningful, “Volunteer” Ministry
I hate the word “volunteer,” but it’s the word everyone uses, so here we go. With the congregation as an army, the key to deploying the army is gifts-based ministry. God has gifted and called every believer to fulfill his or her mission on the earth. Calling is not limited to clergy. Ministry is not limited to paid staff. For all intents and purposes, the only difference between “volunteers” and paid staff is the source of their income and possibly their availability.
If the church fully embraces the concept of the priesthood of believers, then it can accomplish far more than what it’s currently doing. The key is to champion the member, help them discover their spiritual gifts with a tool like Network, and to support and deploy them as they do the work of the ministry. When believers are operating in their gifts and abilities, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and supported by their pastors and churches, they are unstoppable. They find meaning and purpose beyond what anything else can provide. And, the church functions as it should.
I led the gifts discovery and deployment process at a church I served for 15 years. Every member who attended a discover your ministry type class met with me for a post-class interview. I was always amazed at what people aspired to do and how God had equipped them. In fact, I even identified my future wife this way!
Our church reached a point where we only started new ministries out of these conversations following the gifts discovery class. Some of these ministries, we heard about from sources in the community because our people were serving based on their gifts and hadn’t told us what they were doing. That thought just makes me smile.
The church burdens many of its members with meaningless ministry – parking lot attendants, greeters, coffee servers, and so forth. Potentially the worst staff position in any church is the “guest services coordinator,” because this person must constantly hustle to fill vacant spots every weekend of the year! Why? Because no one is called to this. (Feel free to argue in the comments, but read on).
Yet, believers rise to the occasion in gifts-based ministry. Pastors – do you want your members dragging themselves out of bed to serve or jumping out of bed to serve? The difference is organizing ministry around spiritual gifts rather than filling slots.
Microsites are easier to multiply than megachurches. Microsites don’t require church-owned property, elaborate budgets, or guest services. As someone is welcomed into a member’s home, isn’t that the only guest services needed?
What about training? Who can be trained more quickly – a pastor or a location host? No location host to date has been required to earn a Master of Divinity first.
Most churches will never have the budget, paid staff, or buildings to accomplish what God has called them to do. Well, that’s if we look at the church as an institution. But, in viewing the church as the body of Christ, there is millions of dollars worth of property in the homes of the church’s members. The “staff” originates from gifts-based assessments. There might be a few expenses, but really no budget.
As it becomes harder to fill and maintain the big box church, there are viable options. Examples like the Tampa Underground (tampaunderground.com) are worth considering. After 10 years of developing their model, they are now sharing their learnings with others.
The future of the church is bright, but it is different. While previous models of ministry have served us well, it’s time to reconsider our strategies and redefine our ministries.
Now, you may be one of those pastors who plans everything in advance. Good for you. But, you might be like the pastors at one church I served where Easter always seemed to take us by surprise. How many services? How do we promote? What is our theme? Who is leading worship? How can we get them back after Easter? If those are your questions, you are in good company.
Every pastor wants to see new faces on Easter Sunday, and maybe even a few faces that haven’t been seen for a while. But, once you get them to the service, how do you keep them? How can they be connected? How can new believers be effectively discipled? These are important questions. Let me offer three tips to connecting your Easter crowd.
1. Everyone attends Easter Services.
Easter is the day when everyone who calls your church their home church shows up. Whether they are members, regular attenders or CEOs (Christmas and Easter only), Easter is the day they all come. This presents a unique opportunity for launching groups.
More than any other season, Easter is the time when everyone can hear the invitation for groups at the same time. While Christmas offers a similar opportunity, the end of December is not a great time to talk about the New Year. Your people just aren’t there yet. But, Easter gets everybody in the room and offers a window to start groups and get people to come back on the Sunday after Easter.
A few years ago, we created a video-based curriculum called Hope Rising for Eastside Christian Church, Anaheim, CA with Pastor Gene Appel. They handed out a copy of the study guide to everyone of the 7,000 people who attended Easter series. When it was all said and done, Eastside launched 460 groups for that series. Now you may not have 7,000 people, but you could have 65 percent of your people in groups like Gene did.
While some may have some misgivings about launching groups toward the end of the school year, the reality is when you have everybody present for Easter, you really can’t pass up that opportunity. If you offer these groups a next step, even if it’s in the Fall, as many as 80 percent will take you up on the offer.
2. Bless your CEO’s.
I served one pastor who used to end the Easter services by saying, “And, if I don’t see you in the near future, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas.” We can have a bad attitude toward our “Christmas and Easter Only” crowd, but let’s not rule them out just yet.
When you think about the people who occasionally or rarely attend your services, wouldn’t you like to get them more engaged? Now think about this, who are their friends? Most likely they have far more friends outside of the church than inside the church. That’s great news for starting small groups. If you invite them to do a study with their friends, you can begin reaching people who’ve barely darkened the door of your church. Rather than inviting your CEO’s to join groups with church people, offer them a way to connect with their unchurched friends and do something intentionally to grow spiritually. The group experience will lead them to the worship experience.
At Harvest Church in Byron, GA, Pastors Jim and Jennifer Cowart used a strategy they called “Grab, Gather, and Grow.” The idea was to grab an easy-to-use curriculum, gather with a group of friends, and grow spiritually. Their congregation of 2,500 took them up on it. Some 5,000 or so friends were gathered for these groups. Many of those friends started attending the weekend services as well.
So often we think of groups as an assimilation strategy or discipleship training, but groups are very effective in reaching out to others in the community who may not have a connection to the church, but do have a connection to someone in your church.
By giving your members, and even your CEO’s, permission and opportunity to form a group with their friends, more people could end up in groups than in your services. Groups can become an entry point to your church.
3. Your Senior Pastor is the Key.
The key to launching groups at both Eastside and Harvest was the senior pastors. At both churches, the senior pastor was the spokesperson for groups. Not only that, the senior pastor was the teacher on the curriculum. While there is a lot to unpack in those two concepts think about this: if your people aren’t connected to each other, the reason they attend your church is because of your senior pastor. They enjoy the pastor’s style, teaching, and even the jokes. (One word of caution: don’t mention this to your worship pastor, it will break his heart.)
If your church creates curriculum based on your pastor’s teaching, you’re just giving your people more of what they already want. There are a variety of ways to do this. You could pay someone tens of thousands of dollars to do this for you. If you’re interested in that, I could recommend someone. But, you could also map out your own series, shoot the video, edit the video, write the study guide, design the study guide, and then duplicate everything yourself. That may sound daunting, but some churches are producing curriculum with an iPhone. A third way is to add your pastors teaching to a series that has already been created like All In.
However, you create your video-based curriculum, that teaching along with your pastors invitation on Easter Sunday will create more groups than you can imagine. While you’re in the process of calculating how many lilies and eggs your church will need, don’t miss out on the opportunity to launch groups off of Easter. Not only will unchurched people participate, but the Sunday after Easter won’t see the dip in attendance it usually does.
Join Allen White and Jeremy Gant from One Ten Pictures for a FREE On Demand Webinar on Effective Easter Launch Strategies: allinsmallgroups.com
I sat down recently with my publisher, Hendrickson Publishers, for a live interview about Exponential Groups. Well, my part was live. Their part was in print, so I have to basically interview myself. I hope you enjoy this and hear my heart for equipping and empowering our people to lead groups. The video is 15 minutes, but if you want to skip around, I’ve listed the questions below along with their time stamps.
Who is the audience for Exponential Groups and what is the book about? (0:50)
What has made you so passionate about expanding churches’ small groups? (1:45)
What do you think is the biggest factor hindering churches from successful group-making? (2:47)
What advice would you give to someone who would like to start a small group but doesn’t want to be considered its “leader”? (3:45)
What are ways that a church can be creative in its approach to creating groups? (4:35)
In chapter 1 you mention that a desire for control will hinder the growth of groups. For those who haven’t read the book yet, what are some other examples of factors or mental blocks that typically hold groups back from their potential to expand that you discuss in Exponential Groups? (5:42)
What’s the best piece advice you’ve received about small groups? (8:02)
What’s a sticky situation or failed plan that you have learned from? (9:15)
What projects are you working on now or have planned for the future? (11:05)