An ill timed launch is nearly as bad as no small group launch at all. You probably launch groups along with everything else in the fall and in the New Year. Those are great windows to launch groups, so what’s the problem?
In most churches, the senior pastor wants to kick off a big fall series as soon as everyone has settled back into church. The pastor will give a “State of the Church” message right after New Year’s Day, then launches into a major sermon series. If these sermon series are aligned with a small group study, then when do you recruit group leaders? And, when do you form groups? Before everybody gets back?
How Does This Work?
Let’s say that everyone is back onsite in the fall around mid-August. This will vary from church to church by a few weeks either way. If your pastor plans a big fall kick off with a sermon series starting in mid-August, you have to recruit leaders and attempt to form groups in July and early August. For most churches that means you are trying to recruit leaders when many of your people are on vacation.
The same goes for the New Year. If your series begins in early to mid-January, then you are recruiting group leaders and forming groups in December. But just in case you haven’t discovered this: nothing happens in December expect for Christmas.
Attempting to recruit leaders in the middle of summer or in December is completely futile. (Okay, maybe you recruited a couple of leaders once, but for the most part it’s futile.) You have to recruit leaders and form groups when your people are actually back. What does this mean?
If your people are back in church physically and mentally in mid-August, then start recruiting group leaders in mid-August. But, what happens to your senior pastor’s fall kick off? Your pastor can still launch the fall with a great sermon series, but wait to align your small group study with the NEXT sermon series (provided your pastor doesn’t do 20-week sermon series). You recruit group leaders in mid- to late August. You form groups in early September. You launch groups with a sermon-aligned study in mid-September.
Here’s a Great Result
One church in my Small Group Ministry Coaching Group made this adjustment and went from 30% of their adults in groups to 42% in groups just by launching with the next series instead of launching with the kick off series. At our church in California, our people weren’t back until after Labor Day. We recruited group leaders in September. Our Connection event to join groups was in early October. We launched our six-week aligned series on the second Sunday in October with it finishing just before Thanksgiving. Our next study started in late January or early February. The groups focused more on group life between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
But, What About Semester-Long Studies?
And, this strategy relieves another problem for you: every group and every ministry wants to launch all at once. By delaying your aligned series launch for a few weeks, people can sign up for Financial Peace, Rooted, or a Beth Moore study first, then you can recruit the remainder of folks to lead or join series-based groups. After all, a group is a group is a group. As long as they’re doing something intentional about their spiritual growth, does it matter what type of group they’re in? Everyone certainly doesn’t need to do the same thing.
Think About This
Recruiting leaders takes a lot of time and effort. By adjusting your alignment schedule, you put in the same amount of effort, but you get a better result simply by changing the timing. As long as your fall series ends by Thanksgiving and your New Year series ends by Easter, you’re in really good shape.
What does your fall church calendar look like? How can you make this adjustment to maximize your recruiting?
If you need a little help working through this issue, try Burst Coaching. You get three private coaching session plus an additional resource for only $197. For more information, click here.
Why let your sermons go dormant when they could do so much more? Pastors have lots of sermons. Even as an Associate Pastor over the years, I have lots of sermons, Bible studies, and class notes. What are you doing with those sermons now?
Pastors have lots of sermons sitting in files. Whether they’re in an old school filing cabinet, on your hard drive, or safely stored on Dropbox, your sermons are sitting around. But, as my friend, Brett Eastman, says, “There’s gold in them hills!” You have no shortage of content. But, why allow your content to lay dormant when you can use it to help people grow?
Why Turn Your Sermons into Group Studies?
One of the chief barriers to people leading small groups is they are intimidated by the thought of leading. Or, they don’t feel they are knowledgeable enough about the Bible. Or they don’t have time to prepare a Bible study. On the other side of the equation, pastors are fearful of new, unproven leaders teaching in groups. By creating your own video-based curriculum, you help both of you.
By offering a video-based (or podcast-based) curriculum to your congregation, your members can gather a group of friends, play your teaching video, and follow the instructions in the workbook. You will have more leaders than ever before by removing this one barrier. Now, to help you feel better about letting anybody lead, don’t advertise these groups. People gather their friends. Their friends already know them. They know what to expect. You simply provide an easy-to-use curriculum and an experienced leader to coach them. The coach will both help and supervise them. This doesn’t need to be overly risky.
Create Your Own Curriculum
The formula to create your own curriculum is simple. First, choose a topic. For the broadest reach choose a topic that people, both inside and outside of your church, are really interested in and a topic that you are the most passionate about. Have you thought of one?
Next, gather all of your great sermon content about that topic. Imagine if you wanted to create a series on relationships. You’ve already got a lot of great material on relationships – communication, conflict, parenting, friendship, marriage, the one anothers, and so forth. You probably don’t need as much content as you can probably gather. I helped one pastor create a six-week small group study from two sermons. Each sermon had three points. Each point became a session for the six-week study.
Then, turn your sermons into scripts. The video sessions can’t be 30-45 minutes long. There’s a big difference between video teaching and live preaching. You can engage a live audience much longer. So, why not just gather people midweek to preach another sermon? Well, sermons don’t actually make disciples, but they can catalyze a decision. Create a 10-minute video script to summarize your sermon content for each session. (You can make the sessions shorter than 10 minutes, but not longer).
Next, shoot your video. Hire a crew or a local wedding videographer. Shoot it on your iPhone and post it to Youtube. However you want to do it, just do it. If this is your first video-based curriculum, your people will overlook the quality because they’re excited about receiving your teaching. You can learn the tips and tricks of video production as you go. Just get started and do something.
Once your video is shot, write your discussion questions. I prefer to write the questions after the fact, because the video doesn’t change. Some pastors have preferred that I write the questions before the video shoot. Inevitably, I rewrite the discussion questions after the video shoot. For more on writing discussion questions, check out the Writing Effective Curriculum Workshop.
Lastly, promote your new series broadly, recruit new leaders, and form groups. (You can get the whole game plan in the Exponentials Groups book and workbook). You can either create fully downloadable resources through your church’s website or app. Or, you can create a physical workbook for people to buy. With so much virtual and downloadable stuff over the last two years, people will probably want to hold something in their hands. Services like Kindle Direct Publishing and Ingram Spark offer print-on-demand, so you only pay for the books you need and can order them as you go. Both services are pretty affordable whether you order dozens of books or thousands of books. The price is the same per book.
Think About This
The fall 2022 small group book is coming [LINK]. Use this summer to prepare for possibly the largest small group launch you’ve ever experienced. Producing your own curriculum is affordable and effective. Pastor, your people want more of you. Once their friends can meet you through the video, they will start coming to church!
Video-based curriculum is just one way to repurpose your great content. You can also craft your content into books, workbooks, courses, devotionals, and so much more. If you need help getting started with your project or even doing the whole thing for you, check out Allen-Writes.com for more information.
A year ago I wrote about the Post-Pandemic Small Group Boom. I wrote about it a year too early. In this article, I’m going to build a case for the pattern leading up to the fall 2022 small group boom, then coach you on how to prepare for it.
While the churches I’ve worked with over the last two years have more new group leaders, more new groups, and more people in groups than ever before, they’ve been hampered by first the Delta variant, then the Omicron variant. While the impact of COVID appears to be lessening as of this writing, the emergence of variants continue. The impact on society as a whole appears to have decreased. There is less mask wearing, even in airports (but you should follow the guidelines…)
Two years ago everything stopped. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic. Almost no one had experienced a pandemic of this degree except a few centenarians who were babies in 1918 during the Spanish Influenza. The whole world came to an abrupt halt. Originally, a few weeks of quarantine were given in exchange for normalcy resuming quickly. Then, it stretched to Easter 2020 and beyond.
COVID separated the church. The church did not “close,” because the church is a body of believers — not a building, not a service, not an institution. The church couldn’t gather for in-person meetings: worship, small groups, or anything else, but the church never closed.
Many small groups went to Zoom or other online platforms — synchronous or asynchronous. While many groups tolerated meeting online, some have discovered the opportunity of online groups to connect to others who are far from them and far from God. But, Zoom fatigue set in quickly. Online groups are just not the same as in-person groups. And, we found our way around that issue too by making online groups completely different and calling them by another name.
But, right now you are in an unprecedented moment – Small Groups are about to boom!
People have been separated for a long time. Of course, restrictions and attitudes vary across North America. While some churches are just now easing their COVID restrictions, I know of one church that never stopped their in-person services throughout the entire pandemic. I’m not judging right or wrong. I’m just saying “different” restrictions and attitudes. While this is also my first global pandemic, this is where I see things going in 2022 with small groups:
People Will Warm Up to In-Person Gatherings Gradually
While Coronavius numbers are declining, many churches have not seen their worship attendance rapidly bounce back. Pastors grimace at the sight of full stadiums and half empty worship centers. But, let’s face it, nobody’s church could ever rival the Super Bowl. But, on the other side, office space across the U.S. is still only at 38% capacity. Even for those who have been over COVID for a while now, normal has not returned.
When the President of the United States announced in his speech on March 10, 2021 “…if we do this together, by July the 4th, there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day. That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together…But to get there we can’t let our guard down. This fight is far from over” (Source) Politics aside, even the President couldn’t foresee the Delta and Omicron variants. COVID didn’t just blow away by Independence Day 2021. COVID in its various forms seems to be sticking around.
In the meantime, what do you do? Do you just write off the spring semester? I don’t think so. This is the time to experiment. What are your people open to? How are they willing to participate in small groups? Pilot something. Gather groups of who are ready. Be patient with those who are unsure. Try a new approach to online groups. If you’re not sure what your people might be open to, our church-wide assessment can help you find the right direction to go.
People Will Be Gone in Spring and Summer 2022
The Gauge Group, a research firm based in Washington DC, predicted in the fourth quarter of 2021 that people were planning for spring 2022 travel. It’s happening. Planes are full. Airlines are struggling. According to the Morning Brew on April 18, 2022: “People are making up for two years of canceled plans with vacations, weddings, and golf trips to Myrtle with the boys. Some data points:
• Monthly domestic ticket bookings and revenue in February exceeded 2019 levels for the first time since the pandemic began.
• Credit card spending on airlines is also above 2019 levels, JPMorgan said.
“We’re seeing an increase in demand that is really unparalleled,” Delta President Glen Hauenstein said last month. The company reported that March 2022 was its best month for sales ever.”
I’m not suggesting that you raise the white flag for summer, but your people taking a much needed break will create an even bigger fall launch. Use your summer to prepare for fall. Recruit coaches for new group leaders. Create your own video-based curriculum.
Small Groups Will Boom in the Fall
Your people have been apart for a long time. Their need for community is higher than ever. By fall, they will be ready for in-person small groups at a level you’ve probably never experienced. Barring another major wave of the virus, people will be ready to reconnect in small groups like never before.
Are you ready? How will you make the most of this opportunity? This is not the time for business as usual. This is not the time to roll out the same tired small group strategies you’ve used year after year that produce the same mediocre result. What are people willing to say “yes” to this fall?
Preparing for the Fall 2022 Small Group Boom
You may not get a moment like this again. Your people’s lives have been disrupted for a long time. They are ready to get into groups, even if they’ve never been in groups before. Your online congregation is ready to take next steps and to make deeper commitments. Use the spring to make a plan for an exponential group launch this fall. Use the summer to execute your plan.
Choose a Relevant Felt-Need Topic.
What is the greatest need in your community? Locate or create a study that addresses that need. Here are a few topics to get you started: relationships, marriage, parenting, stress, purpose, serving others, or something similar.
This is not the time for a series on fasting, tithing, or another mature topic. Those are important, but not to connect the most people possible this fall. You’ve had a lot of new people join you in worship services both in-person and online over the last year. What kind of a study would appeal to their friends? (For more on creating curriculum)
Reconsider Your Definition of a Small Group.
What is an “official” small group in your church? Once you define an official small group, then you can experiment with “unofficial” groups.
One pastor was struggling with recruiting enough leaders to meet the demand for groups in his church, yet he had very high qualifications for leaders which not everyone could meet. I asked him, “What number of people is too small to be a small group in your church?” His answer: Three people. So, he invited his people to join with two others (You plus two) and do the sermon discussion guide together. Once they get going, then he’ll invite them to fulfill the requirements.
How could you offer your people a small group test drive this fall? Could you call these groups by a different name? Key thought: Don’t advertise these groups. Don’t send anyone to these groups. Allow them to gather their friends. (But, give them a coach!)
Consider Delaying Some Requirements Temporarily.
Many people don’t consider themselves to be any kind of a leader. Yet, most people have the ability to gather a group of friends. This is leadership. As John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence.”
But, to get there, you must decide: what are the minimum requirements for someone to “lead” a group in your church? Breathing or willing? A confession of faith? Church membership? Small group leadership training? A Coach? An interview? The more requirements you pile on, the fewer potential leaders you will have. As my friend Randal Alquist says, “You’re not recruiting elders here.”
Start Building Your Coaching Structure
If you choose to launch groups “wide open” this fall, then you need help ASAP. The key to multiplying small groups is multiplying yourself. Which of your experienced group leaders could help you coach new leaders? If you’re not going to be picky about who leads a new group, then you need to be picky about who coaches them.
When you look at your current group leaders, what groups would you like 10 more just like? Ask those leaders to help coach new leaders. What groups do you NOT want 10 more of? Quarantine that group (sorry).
There is a lot of debate about coaching small group leaders. Some churches have the luxury of hiring enough staff to coach all of the leaders. If that’s you, go for it. But, that’s not where most churches are. There is also a struggle with giving up control (I was there), disconnecting from group leaders, and sharing leadership with others. Let me ask you this: if you had four times as many group leaders as you have right now, how would you support them? The answer is not “more meetings.”
The fall of 2022 will be unlike any other season you’ve experienced in small group ministry. You need to be ready. But, let me give you a hint: the strategy for fall 2022 is not pulling out the same tired small group strategies that have connect less than 30% of your members into groups. It’s time to add a new strategy. It’s time to do something different. You may not get another moment like this again. Make the most of it.
The month prior to an alignment series or church-wide campaign is prime time to recruit new leaders and form new groups. If you want these groups to actually start (and keep going), they need a coach. Even if you only have a half dozen new leaders, it’s too much for you to add to your plate, and they won’t get the care they deserve. Here’s how to do it and why:
Coaches are Mission Critical
Your new leaders need the most help immediately after they say “yes” to starting a group. The window between making a commitment and starting a group is mission critical. In fact, you will lose more new leaders in this window than at any other time. Here’s how I know.
Our church in California launched 103 groups for an alignment series one fall. For a church of 800 adults, this was pretty good. After patting ourselves on the back, we surveyed these groups midway through the series to see how many planned to continue in the next series. Out of the 103 leaders, 30 of them said they weren’t going to continue. Of course, I always want them all to continue. I would have been happy if only 20 or fewer had dropped out. But, I wasn’t comfortable with 30 ending their groups. So, I sent another survey just to the 30.
Out of the 30, two of the leaders said their group enjoyed the study and just couldn’t continue at this time. The other 28 groups had never started! This led me to a very valuable principle: “Groups that don’t start tend to not continue.” These leaders had become discouraged. Some got cold feet. Others had invited some people to join their groups but got turned down. Overall, the enemy had done a number on these leaders to discourage and deflate them.
From that point on, every new leader received a coach to walk alongside them from when they said “yes” to starting a group through the end of the study. We had 105 groups for the next group launch. With the support of a coach, these groups started and thrived. Very few dropped out.
Coaches Help You Multiply Yourself
Without coaches, you tend to hold more meetings and send more emails. You’re not coaching your leaders. You’re spamming them.
As John Maxwell says, “Find someone who can do the job 30% as well as you can, then let them do it.” The truth is they can probably do the job 60% as well.
Face it – there is just not enough of you to go around. To make the biggest impact, multiply yourself and help more leaders. Bigger meetings are not the answer. More emails are not the answer. You must multiply yourself in order to truly serve your new group leaders.
Coaches are More Available
If your experienced leaders will make a weekly call to new leaders, they will receive the support they need to start (and continue) their groups. The job description is simple: (1) a weekly phone call, (2) encourage them, (3) answer their questions, and (4) pray for them. It’s up to you to call your “coaches” every week to hear what they are learning from the leaders.
Don’t ask your experienced leaders to give up their groups to coach. You don’t want to lose your best leaders (and most of them aren’t willing to give up their groups). But, don’t ask them to coach 10 new group leaders either. Invite them to coach one or two new leaders.
Remember that expectations should be Clear, Reasonable, and Accountable. If you re-read this section, that’s what has been outlined for new coaches here.
Think About This
Before you start recruiting new leaders, recruit a coach for them. Consider your current leaders. Whose groups would you like ten more just like them? Invite them to coach. Think about mature believers in your church. Would they care enough to make a weekly call?
You don’t need to coach all of your group leaders. If you currently don’t have a coaching structure, coaching every leader is a laudable goal. But, you don’t need to coach 100% of your leaders right off the bat. Your new leaders need the most help. Find a coach for them. Then, work your way toward a coach for every leader. And, remember, every leader doesn’t need the same type of coaching.
Your established leaders are okay for now. After all, they’ve been without a coach for a while. Ask them to use their experience to help your new leaders. Their experience will help new leaders get their groups started.
Hoboken Grace is a church of eight hundred adults in Hoboken, New Jersey, near New York City. This region is known for young, single, upwardly mobile residents who eventually marry and move to the suburbs. The church is eleven years old and has offered small groups since its beginning.
The church’s previous effort at groups had connected about five hundred of their eight hundred members into groups. But the operative word here is effort. “At that point, identifying new group leaders was heavy apprenticing and heavy individual recruiting,” said Nick Lenzi, the church’s community director. “We had reluctance to church-wide campaigns. We felt it was really hard to create our own curriculum, or at least we thought the barriers for that were really high.”
For their first church-wide campaign, the church chose to purchase curriculum for their Be Rich series. The topic was finances, and the curriculum choice was from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU). This was the direction the lead pastor was going, so the small group campaign followed suit.
What’s more, FPU required the facilitators to have advanced training. Nine months before the campaign, they let the group leaders know about the series. “In January, we had the pastor put together a vision video,” Lenzi said. “He told them, ‘I want you guys to get into FPU because we need as many qualified people this fall to take the entire church through FPU. If you know the material, you’re going to have a huge leg up and be able to help so many people.’ When our people heard from the lead pastor, they accepted that call to action.”
“We were starting community and talking about the most intimate thing in today’s society,” Lenzi admits. Yet, in this first alignment series, the church was able to connect a total of 91 percent of their adults into groups. They had connected an additional 28 percent of their adults into groups using a relatively difficult topic. (63% were previously in groups.)
With one series under their belt, the church took the next step to create their own teaching videos to align with a published series (with permission). “I got a teleprompter,” Lenzi said. “My pastor asked, ‘Where has this thing been my whole life?’”
The church also decided to try a new strategy in recruiting group leaders. “One of our values is that everyone in the church takes responsibility for their own spiritual growth. Now I’m looking for leaders who are able to encourage a group and support people in their own spiritual growth. When we invite people to lead groups, we invite them to encourage people and help these gatherings to happen. The church is going to partner with them. We’re going to give them the questions. We’re going to offer the video teaching. We’ll put the leaders in touch with the care pastors if something comes up. This has been so fruitful. My ‘close rate’ is 90 to 95 percent, because everyone believes they can encourage someone else. The nature of the groups is going from house to house, or restaurant to restaurant. We’ve found that we just need to get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit be the Holy Spirit.”
With their pastor’s video teaching and an openness to give their people permission and opportunity to lead these gatherings, Hoboken Grace continues to make a kingdom impact in a neighborhood of the biggest city in the United States.