Bill Willits is the Executive Director of Adult Ministry Environments for North Point Ministries. One of the founding staff members of North Point, Bill is a graduate of Florida State University and Dallas Theological Seminary. He is also the co-author of the book, Creating Community with Andy Stanley, which was recently re-released in an updated and expanded edition. Bill and his team have helped connect thousands of adults into the benefits of group life.
Admittedly, I am not very handy. Some people can very intuitively tackle home projects and do a brilliant job. I fall more into the category of the guy who takes a partially disassembled object to a professional only to hear, “You tried to fix this yourself.” I just hang my head in shame. But, Youtube has changed all of that for me.
A few years ago my dad gave me a car. It was a Cadillac. It was fast. Shortly after my father gifted this car to me, the windshield wipers began to turn on involuntarily. Rain or shine, they would just start going. Screech, screech, screech, screech! I had to run the washer just to give them something to do. So, I searched Youtube.
The problem was that the windshield wiper motor cap had corroded. This was a common problem for older Caddies. I ordered the part. When the part arrived, I followed the step-by-step instructions created by a gentleman in Alabama. It was a little work, but I fixed it myself and saved some significant money. But, I couldn’t fix all of that car’s problems.
One day the engine started making a noise…a very loud noise. I took it into the shop. The recommended fix was a new engine at the low, low price of $10,000, which would have doubled the value of the car. Youtube was not the solution to this problem. Carmax was the solution to this problem. The Cadillac went to the junk yard. I bought a new-to-me car. My DIY efforts even with the best Youtube videos could only go so far.
If you are building your small group ministry by yourself, there are a lot of great resources available that will help you achieve a significant level of success. If you work hard with the right ideas, models, and tools, you can reach 30% in groups pretty easily. That’s not a bad spot, except it’s a common place to get stuck. DIY small group ministry will only get you so far. Here is the downside of the DIY model:
You don’t have time.
You probably wear multiple hats in your church. If your sole role is small groups and discipleship, you are blessed. I never had that singular focus in either of the churches I served on staff. Growing churches have growing needs, so you’ve got to do a lot of things. The problem is you can’t give enough of your attention to any one area for very long. It leaves you feeling that you’re not good at anything. I’ve lived that.
Going back to the home DIY analogy, an old joke goes that a husband says to his wife, “It’s on my list. You don’t have to remind me every six months!” You need more group leaders to have more groups. You need coaches to support your group leaders. You need training to equip your coaches and leaders. You need to create a self-produced church-wide campaign to recruit more leaders and get more people into groups. But, you also need to take the youth group to camp. You need to lead a mission trip. You need to meet with the copier salesman (real one for me). And, and, and… you don’t have time to focus on groups in the way you want. Frustrating.
You face too many choices.
The enemy of one good solution is two or more equally good solutions. Should I clean the oil stain on the driveway with baking soda or Dawn dishwashing detergent? (It works on those baby birds). Do I buy a product to clean it, and if so, which one? Youtube has too many solutions to my problem. I know, I should just try one. But, what if it doesn’t work? What if I make it worse? Can I just paint the driveway? Should I hire someone?
When it comes to DIY Small Group Ministry, you face a more substantial dilemma – there are so many good and effective models out there. Do you go with Free Market Groups like Church of the Highlands? Or should it be Sermon-based like Larry Osborne or Semester-based like Nelson Searcy? Should your church do a church-wide campaign like Saddleback? With so many people still worshipping at home, maybe a house church is more appropriate right now. Or, do we go deep into discipleship? But, which one – Dgroups with Robby Gallaty, Real Life Ministries, Rooted, 3DM, DisciplesMade? Where do you start? What do you do? And, when will you find time to research all of that?
Your church isn’t the expert’s church.
Of course, the problem with most models is that they work amazingly well at the author’s church, but you don’t work at that church. Every church is unique. Your church has a unique history, culture, geography, ethnicity, denomination, size, vision, etc. Churches in the same denomination are different. Churches in the same region are different. Imposing another church’s small group model on your church will give you a partial result, but it is not the custom solution that you need. There’s nothing wrong with the model per se. It’s what you do with the model.
What I’ve learned over the last 17 years in working with over 1,500 churches across North America is that no two churches are exactly alike. In fact, in each of the small group ministry coaching groups I lead, we end up with eight different versions of the best practices we explore together. And, that’s about right.
You don’t know what to do next.
There are more than a few tasks around my house that are undone (and on my list) simply because I don’t know how to start. I’ll be honest. I doubt my ability to pull it off. I haven’t found the right Youtube video to lead the way. I’m busy. When I get to the end of the day, I’m tired. It’s hard to think about it. And, a little more honesty, we’ve lived with the problem this way for a while, so we’re kind of used to it. The answer often is to avoid the issue.
You know that you need to do something different, yet if you’re like me, you’d also like to avoid making a mistake. Let me share something that helped me.
Sometimes you need a guide.
After working very hard at DIY Small Group Ministry for seven years, our church connected 30% of our adults into groups. Then, our groups got stuck. I had read all of the books that you’ve read. I attended as many conferences as I could. I interviewed other pastors to see what worked in their churches. But, our groups were stuck.
Then, I joined a coaching group. The coach gave me new ideas, but more than that it gave our church new focus. It was expensive — $5,000 for a year. My church didn’t spend $5,000 on anything. But, when my pastor gave the green light for me to join the group, not only did I know that I was going to get some much needed help, but I also knew that my pastor was serious about groups. What would it look like if your pastor was serious about groups?
After only three weeks in the coaching group, we doubled our groups. It had taken seven years to get 30% into groups, then in one day we had 60% in groups. And, six months later, we doubled our groups again and ended by with 125% in groups! With a seasoned guide to walk alongside us as we built groups, we achieved results unlike anything we ever dreamed.
Now you have a choice.
You can continue the DIY approach to small group ministry and dabble in different small group models until you find what works. It’s a lot of hard work, but you’ll make progress eventually. Or, you can engage an experienced guide to help you.
Now, you probably know that I coach churches on their small groups in both coaching groups and individual coaching. But, there are other coaches out there like my friends, Chris Surratt and Mark Howell. The Small Group Network offers different strategy sessions. Pick something that is right for you. Find the help you need. Invest in yourself and in the future of your small group ministry.
By Allen White Most of us have cycled through small group strategies and discipleship methods and ended up with mixed results. Some strategies helped us start a bunch of groups, but didn’t help our people growth. Other pathways raised the quality of groups, but could not multiply groups fast enough. Currently, I am dedicating my time, talent, and treasure to four movements where we are seeing lives transformed and communities reached with the Gospel. If that sounds like an outrageous claim, then I would ask you to look into the webinars and websites connected to each of these movements. I hope you see what I am seeing and learn how God is using things old and new to build his Church.
Rooted is based on a non-Western approach to experiential discipleship. Through a mix of large group gatherings, small group meetings, and experiences, people are coming to Christ, taking their next steps in faith, and finding lasting transformation. Rooted motivates congregations unlike anything else I’ve seen. People who “graduate” from the 10-week Rooted experience join on-going small groups (90%), serve more (73%), and give more (84%) than before they participated in Rooted. Website:experiencerooted.com Webinar: Wednesday, March 8, 2pm ET – Register at experiencerooted.com/events Rooted Gathering: March 22-24, 2017 in the DFW Area – Register at experiencerooted.com/events
Neighboring is the future of ministry.
Whether your church rocked the attractional model in the 1990s or deployed your congregation in the missional movement in the 2000s, the days of big box worship services and churches serving the community in matching t-shirts are coming to an end. As our culture becomes more secular and less favorable toward the church, headline-making large events will become unwelcome in the coming years. Neighboring is based on Jesus’ second command : “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Who’s my neighbor? Well, what if you neighbor is your actual neighbor? Neighboring is a focus that believers don’t love their neighbors so they’ll become Christians, we neighbor because we are Christians. While this is outreach, neighboring would more correctly be viewed as a spiritual practice. By taking believers out of their comfort zone, they face their fears, learn to trust God, and building relationships that will inform their own spiritual growth and challenge their comfort. Website:theneighboringchurch.com Resources:The Neighboring Church by Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis Coming Resources: The Neighboring Church Staff Training Curriculum and The Neighboring Life Launch Kit recently filmed at the Neighborhood Collective at Oak Hills Church, San Antonio, TX features teaching by Randy Frazee, Rick Rusaw, Brian Mavis, Tom Anthony, Dave Runyan, Chris Freeland, Nate Bush, Lynn Cory, and other thought-leaders in the neighboring movement. (June 1, 2017 release).
3. GroupLife Southwest
Okay, this is a conference that represents a movement. GroupLife Southwest fills
the gap left by the end of Willow Creek’s Small Group Conference. By presenting multiple voices, Mark Howell and Canyon Ridge Christian Church, Las Vegas, demonstrate the genius of applying multiple strategies to a church in both connecting and growing their members. Speakers include Bill Willits (North Point Ministries), Dave Enns (North Coast Church), Chris Surratt (Lifeway), Hugh Halter (Forge), Mindy Caliguire (SoulCare), Mike Foster (People of the Second Chance), Todd Engstrom (The Austin Stone), Boyd Pelley (ChurchTeams), Mark Howell (markhowelllive.com), and Allen White. The conference is March 27-28, 2017 in Las Vegas. Use the code: ALLEN for a substantial discount. For more information and to register: http://www.grouplifesouthwest.com/
4. Exponential Groups
It’s not a coincidence that the title of this fourth movement is also the title of my
book. It seems the American church has retired. We cater to ourselves. Do enough to feel satisfied. But, act as if we have the luxury of time in reaching our world. Not all churches act this way, but the vast majority do. Time is short. It is time to turn our audience into an army. By empowering and equipping our people to serve, the quest is no longer to connect 100% of our people into groups, but to enlist 100% of our people to LEAD. We have coddled our people into complacency for far too long. The attractional services where we invited people to be comfortable backfired, in that, they took us up on the offer to be comfortable. It’s time to wake the sleeping giant. It’s time to stop catering to Baby Boomers. (And, for the sake of full disclosure, I’m 52 — the last of the Boomers). In fact, in the next decade, ministry to Boomers will be called “Senior Adult Ministry.” That’s not the future of the church! As the Church, we have been thinking and planning for 2,000 years. It’s time to take action. Website: allenwhite.org Webinar:Help, My Groups are Stuck at 30 Percent! on: Thursday, March 9 at 1pm ET/ Noon CT/ 11am MT/ 10am PT Tuesday, March 14 at 2pm ET/ 1pm CT/ Noon MT/ 11am PT Register:allenwhite.org/webinars Book is Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Cokesbury, Christian Book Unsubscribe | 503 N. Main Street, Mauldin, SC 29662
After spending the year pouring into others, often we get to Summer and dream of a tropical paradise. For more of us, that tropical paradise amounts to a week in Myrtle Beach. (There are better places to vacation in South Carolina, but as a resident for nine years now, I’m not allowed to tell you, especially if you’re from Ohio.)
Let’s face it for those of us overseeing discipleship and small group ministries in a church, Summer is really sort of an annual sabbatical for us in a way. After that week of vacation, what do we do? Sure we pitch in at VBS or youth camp. We might lead a mission trip or speak on a weekend or two. But, often we have more discretionary time in the Summer than in most other times of the year. What you invest in yourself now could make a huge difference this Fall.
Now that you have six weeks of your “sabbatical” remaining, here are a few thought about making your time productive and your Fall awesome.
I learned a long time ago that leaders are readers. Here’s the great news: you have time to read. Whether you prefer printed books, ebooks, or audio books, there is time to read. If you can’t find time to sit down and read for 20 minutes during the day, then download an audio book to listen when you travel to and from the office. My Summer commute is all of 12 minutes, but I can get 24 minutes of listening time in every day, which is two hours per week. When we multiply that by 6 weeks, we just found 12 hours of reading time this Summer.
Most of us don’t have hours to read during the day, but if we put in another 20 minutes, we could probably cover at least a chapter a day. Our lives are too short to make all of the mistakes and learn all of the hard lessons ourselves. So, cheat. Learn from other people mistakes and hard lessons. Here are a few books I’ve either just read or am reading this Summer.
Contagious by Jonah Berger. A professor at the Wharton School of Business discovers the best approaches and appeals to marketing. With great stories like the $100 Philly Cheese Steak and a Youtube sensation called “Will It Blend?” the author will take you through the six key areas of effective promotion. As you think about promoting your small groups this Fall, you will uncover some interesting thoughts from Berger about what to present and how to make it work. Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley. This is Andy Stanley’s “Gentlemen, this is a football” speech. Starting with the incredible stories of the inauspicious beginnings of North Point Community Church and challenging the church to be the church, Stanley delivers a solid whack on the side of the head. Small Groups for the Rest of Us by Chris Surratt. My friend, Chris, released this book last year. He offers a unique approach to groups in an approachable and transferable way. So many small group models just don’t work other places. Chris’ thoughts will work in churches large and small. Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy. As pastors we are focused on fulfilling God’s plan for our lives. But, often we spend our days spinning our wheels and crying out to God for direction. While we should never be presumptuous about our own plans, the reality is if we don’t have a plan, then not very much gets accomplished. Living Forward helps you plan ahead for every aspect of your life. It’s not about getting rich quick or reaching the pinnacle of success as much as it’s about planning to give every area of your life what it needs when it needs it. How do you know how to do that? You have a plan.
Take an Online Course.
My book won’t be out until January 2017, so I can’t recommend it yet. But, if you’d like to see the first chapter, you can download it here: allenwhite.org/ebook. What I can offer you is my six session online course called Leading an Exponential to Group Launch. In this course you will learn proven strategies of set goals and make a plan, recruit leaders, develop a coaching structure, form groups, and get your groups to continue. This is a downloadable resource which includes six 45-60 minute talks along with the slide deck and some great downloadable templates, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If you would like to invest in a a live, in-person coaching relationship, I am starting a new six month coaching group this month. For more details, contact email@example.com
Take some time for yourself. Fall will be here before you know it. If you don’t have time to invest in yourself this Summer, well, then you have some things to learn.
What do you plan to differently this Fall than before? Leave your response below.
By Allen White Chris Surratt is a ministry consultant and coach with over twenty-two years of experience serving the local church. Most recently, Chris served on the Executive Team at Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN. Before coming to Cross Point in 2009, Chris was on staff at Seacoast Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Chris’s first book, Small Groups For The Rest Of Us: How to Design Your Small Groups System to Reach the Fringes, will be released by Thomas Nelson on September 29, 2015. You can find Chris blogging regularly at www.chrissurratt.com on the subjects of community, discipleship and leadership.
Q1. When we first met, you were the Greenville Campus Pastor for Seacoast Church. Seacoast the first multi-site church, and now there are over 8,000. What has changed with multi-site?
I would say that a lot has changed since we started experimenting with multisite in 2002. Very few churches were doing it, so no one had written books or started conferences about it yet. We felt like we were building the plane while we were flying it. While we made a ton of mistakes along the way, I don’t know that we would have tried it if we knew what we were doing. Churches are now opening up the definition of what a multiiste church can look like. Before, the only churches starting sites were mega-churches. Now, churches of all sizes are planting campuses. We saw it as primarily a band aid to growth capacity issues, but churches are now using it as an extension or a new expression of their ministry. People used to consider multisite a fad that would pass eventually. I don’t know that it will any time soon.
Q2. What NEEDS to change with multi-site?
There are still churches who look to multisite as a method for instant growth. With over 8000 multisite churches, it’s easy to want to jump onto the bandwagon and be a part of the movement, but not every church is ready or equipped to handle the issues that come with multiple locations. If your church is not currently growing in one location, and you still have capacity for growth, another location will not magically get it kick started. Cracks become gaps when you go multisite. Those same issues that are holding back potential now will travel with you to the next location. Put everything into making what you have now as healthy as possible, then consider multiplying it.
Q3. You just left the staff at Cross Point Church in Nashville to enter into the consulting world. I don’t understand why anyone would want to do that at all (wink). How can consultants help churches?
My family recently moved into a brand new house in downtown Nashville. During the process of moving in, someone (could have been me – no one really knows) took a chunk out of the wall carrying furniture up the stairs. Our first reaction was, we have to get that fixed as soon as possible, because it is going to drive us crazy to look at everyday. Two years later and it’s not fixed, and we never notice it anymore. The only time we think about it is when our small group comes to the house and lovingly points it out for us. No matter how amazing your church staff is, there is nothing like bringing in fresh eyes to see the cracks you have been staring at for months – or even years. A good consultant (like Allen or myself) can come in and walk alongside the staff to help maximize the good and fix the bad. My job is not to prescribe my way of ministry, but work with the leaders to make sure it fits their mission and culture.
Q4. I recently met your dad in Orlando with your brother, Greg. It seems a lot of pastor’s kids end up needing psychotherapy, yet the Surratt family now has generations of church leaders. What did your parents give you?
We have been referred to as the “Surratt Mafia” of the church world. I’m not sure if that’s good or not, but we should probably get nicer suits to wear. I think part of it is: we didn’t know anything else. My life has been spent in the church and I cannot imagine a better place to be. Growing up we had Sunday morning service, Sunday night service, Wednesday night Bible study, and revivals that would last for weeks. My mom would always say, “You don’t have to go to church, you get to go to church.” But, I never felt pressure to have to be in full-time ministry. My parents just instilled a love for the local church and the passion to help her reach the world with the Gospel. The methods have definitely changed with the generations of Surratts, but the mission has not. And, a follow up question, which doesn’t count toward the 5.5 questions, is the multiplication of the Surratt family the secret behind a multi-site church? Definitely with my brother, Greg. His kids have taken the “be fruitful and multiply” commandment personally.
As an introvert by nature, I have always felt left out by most small group systems. Between the connection hoops and the demand to share my secret sins in a room full of strangers, small groups felt like an intimidating concept. While thinking through how we could better design a system to reach people like me, I started running into other groups of people we were missing through our processes. If we were going to say we believed in community for everyone, what does that look like? The typical small group system is designed for the typical church attender. We have to begin thinking differently if we want to reach the people on the fringes. You’ll have to buy the book to find out how. 🙂 AW: I’m looking forward to it!