It’s time for your church to move beyond church-wide campaigns. The first widely publicized church-wide campaign, the 40 Days of Purpose by Rick Warren was launched in 2002. By far, it has been the most popular campaign to date. I am grateful for every person who ever “hosted” or joined a group for that season. At this point, some of you may be confused. I wrote a book called Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential (Hendrickson 2017), which is all about church-wide campaigns or alignment series. You might ask, “Now you’re telling us that campaigns don’t work.” That’s not what I’m telling you. Church-wide campaigns used to work. But, there was a time and a season for campaigns. Here are the reasons for those seasons.
When to Stop Using Campaigns
There are two measures for when campaigns are no longer effective. Your church will hit these marks, and then campaigns will no longer be helpful. First, if a high percentage of your members are in groups, you no longer need to use campaigns. For most churches, there is a 1-3 year window when campaigns are highly effective to recruit leaders and connect people into groups. Beyond that three year window, your church will experience “campaign fatigue.” It’s a strange phenomenon. Every week, your people will hear a message in the weekend service. Every week, your people will meet in their group and probably study something. But, the idea of continually aligning the weekend service with the group study gets exhausting for people. This seems strange since there is a sermon and a study every week. But, it’s a reality with a few exceptions. Some churches use sermon-based groups, which I believe is genius from a Christian education point of view. The normal course of sermon-based groups is steady. You don’t face all of the ups and downs of church-wide campaigns. While there’s a push to join groups every semester, it’s not the bandwagon effect over and over and over again. The bandwagon is fatiguing, which leads to the second point. If your church has used campaigns for more than 3 years, you will experience a diminishing return. For about 8 years now, I’ve told the story of a church who had dramatic success in connecting all of their people into groups within a 9-month 3-campaign push. The pastor was engaged. They were naturals at creating their own curriculum. They launched multiple campaigns year after year. They began facing a steady skid downward. When I caught up with them about a year ago, groups were at an all-time low. Did the campaigns fail? Their campaigns succeeded for the first year or two. But, by year 3 campaign fatigue had set in. They were excellent at the sprint of the campaign, but suffered when the sprint became a marathon. Your church will suffer this too. Once the majority of your congregation is connected into groups and you’ve run campaigns for two or three years, it’s time for a change. If you don’t make the switch, your groups will decline, except for two scenarios…Click Here for Part 2. Join Allen White for a Free Webinar: Beyond Church-wide Campaigns on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 3pm EST or Wednesday, Nov 14 at 12:30pm EST. CLICK HERE for more information
By Allen White As you’re about to take a sigh of relief at the end of a ministry year, planning a successful Fall launch begins now. This doesn’t mean you will work all Summer on the Fall launch, but it does mean getting some plans into place to recruit more leaders, form more groups, and keep those groups going. In order to start more groups than you ever have, you need to reevaluate a few things now.
Engage Your Senior Pastor
The Senior Pastor is the #1 recruiter for groups. In the churches I’ve served, when I gave my senior pastor the same script that I would have used, the results were typically 3 times better than if I had said the same thing. How do I know? I recruited leaders myself for seven years and was able to connect 30 percent of our congregation into groups. When my pastor made the same invitation, we doubled our groups in one day. Within six months, 125 percent of our congregation was connected into groups. Did I mention that it took me seven years working alone to get to 30 percent in groups? Not only did we connect more people into groups than attended our weekend service, we turned around and did it again the next year. Think about this, if your pastor has lead the church for more than a few years, the reason most people attend, other than Jesus, is because of your senior pastor. They enjoy his teaching. They laugh at her jokes. They follow his leadership. Now a word of caution: don’t mention this to your worship pastors. It will break their hearts. When your pastor stands up and makes the invitation, people will listen and respond. What if you senior pastor is not interested in groups or sees groups as one of many options in the church? Look for next week’s post.
Change Your Recruiting Methods
How are you currently recruiting group leaders? What do you require for someone to lead? What I have discovered is most people don’t see themselves as leaders. When you ask them to lead a group, they will probably turn you down. I’ve even convinced people to go through the group leader training, and then they turned me down. A trial run, like a church-wide campaign or alignment series, is a great way to help prospective leaders take a test drive with groups. Once they’ve had the experience of starting and leading a group at least 80 percent will continue. Here’s the dilemma: in order for most people to agree to the trial run, you have to make it easy, accessible, and short-term. I used to basically recruit leaders for the rest of their lives. That’s really too much to ask. But, six weeks is a good start. The opportunity must also be easy and accessible. A video-based curriculum makes it easy. There is little preparation time, and the new leaders don’t need to be experts. They just need to have friends. We also must wave some of our requirements for these six week groups. I used to say, “lower the bar,” but then I discovered some churches would lower the bar, but never raise it back up. The end goal is to develop leaders who can make disciples, lead a Bible discussion, and mature in their own lives and leadership. But, to start they need to see if they even like leading a group. Delay the requirements temporarily, then bring them back at the right time.
Reconsider How Groups are Formed
Relational approaches to group formation are far more effective than task-based approaches. Sign up cards, websites, and group directories are efficient, but they are not effective in creating long lasting groups. Start with the relationships the new leader already has. Among their friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and others, who would be interested in the group’s topic? After praying over a list of potential group members, the new leaders should invite them. Then, the people they invite should invite others. If you’re church is experiencing rapid growth or high turnover, then chances are potential new leaders might not know who to invite or prospective members might not get an invitation to a group. If they’ve been in town for any length of time, they might know a few neighbors or co-workers they could do the study with. Don’t be shy about asking them to lead a short-term group. If they would prefer just to join a group, then create an environment where prospective members can meet new group leaders face to face. This way they will have a sense of who the leaders are and choose the group they want to join. As a last resort, if a handful of people contact the church office and need to be placed into a group, then find a group for them. If it’s more than a handful, then you have an epidemic. Don’t revert back to task-oriented approaches. Get the prospective members and leaders in the same room. Rethink your approach to forming groups. You will find more relationally-based approaches will help you to form lasting groups.
Announce Your Fall Campaign This Week!
If new groups formed this Spring or after Easter, give them something to look forward to. All you need is a start date and a topic (or just a start date if your pastor doesn’t plan that far ahead). The groups can meet socially over the Summer. Do a service project together. Even do another study. They may meet only once a month. But, they will know when Fall comes around, there is a new series for them to jump into.
You can persist in the ways you are currently recruiting leaders and forming groups. You will probably experience some incremental growth of 5-10 percent. But, by tweaking a few things, your Fall launch can bring more success in connecting people than you could ever ask or imagine.
By Allen White The church wide campaign was introduced 14 years ago most famously by the 40 Days of Purpose and The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. Boy, the innovators and influencers who jumped into that one hit it big. I’ve heard stories of churches actually connecting more people into groups than they had on Easter Sunday. Those were crazy times. There’s something great about being first. The first church to implement a new idea in a community usually reaps deep dividends. The first church in your town to introduce contemporary worship was probably looked upon with suspicion by other churches, but that church also outgrew all of their critics. Today, you can throw a rock and hit a church with contemporary worship. The same goes for seeker services, sermon note-taking sheets, or drama sketches in the service. (Okay, we gave up on drama sketches a long time ago. Not many could pull that off.) But after all of these years, is the church-wide campaign still relevant?
1. Does Your Church Suffer from Church Wide Campaign Fatigue?
Some churches have overdone the church-wide campaign. They are aligning everything all of the time with the weekend service and making one big push after another. While the pastor will be preaching a sermon every weekend and small groups will be studying something, continuing to launch one church-wide campaign after another leads to campaign fatigue. The pastor just gets tired of promoting it, and the people get tired of hearing it. If your church has successfully connected 30-50 percent or more of your groups using a church-wide campaign and the Host strategy, a church-wide campaign has probably lost its luster with your congregation. You’re not seeing the results you used to. While there are some exceptions, most churches can start off strong by running three church-wide campaigns in their first year, then they need to back off to one church-wide aligned series per year. In the first year, groups need the continuity of starting with one campaign, then continuing into the next. But, once groups have made it through that first year, it’s harder to get them to align, which is okay. After all, the beauty of small groups is in the variety of things they can study, not in uniformity. There are some exceptions.
2. Who Should Continue Using Church Wide Campaigns?
Rapidly growing churches must continue running campaigns to recruit new leaders and form new groups just to keep up with the church’s dramatic growth. People who are new to the church need new groups to help them grow and find their way. Small groups are the best solution to the assimilation dilemma created in rapidly growing churches. Churches in college towns or near military bases usually experience high turnover every year. Manna Church, Fayetteville, NC sits next to Fort Bragg. This church of 4,000 adults must replace 1,000 adults every year to maintain their current attendance. Church-wide campaigns have helped them start as many as 700 small groups at a time. What’s cool about this is the groups started at Manna Church are reassigned or deployed throughout the world. These small groups will soon become microsite churches. Churches with a revolving door like Manna’s can run church-wide campaigns from now until the cows come home.
3. Pre-Packaged Church Wide Campaigns Have Run Their Course.
Let’s face it. There is only one Rick Warren and one 40 Days of Purpose. I doubt we will ever see a phenomena like that again. While we cannot argue with the success of the second bestselling non-fiction book of all time, only part of the success of those church-wide campaigns came from the topic. Granted a church must have a great topic to appeal to the community at large, but other factors also lead to the success of that first major church-wide campaign. Linking a small group study to the pastor’s sermon was certainly a key to success. While some might attribute connecting Rick Warren to the pastor’s sermon as the key here, I see it the other way. Let’s face it, if people aren’t connected to each other, the reason they attend your church, other than Jesus Christ, is because of your Senior Pastor. They like his personality, jokes, and teaching. Now, don’t mention this to your worship pastor, it will break his heart. The Senior Pastor’s involvement with promoting 40 Days of Purpose and promoting small groups was the “It Factor” in the success of that campaign and any other. But, there is one more thing you can do for even more success.
4. Create Your Own Church Wide Campaign.
As I said, people like their Senior Pastors. If a church does a church-wide campaign with their pastor’s invitation for groups, they will recruit leaders and connect people into groups like never before. It’s a guaranteed home run, but it could be a grand slam home run. In addition to their Senior Pastor’s leadership in recruiting group leaders and aligning a sermon series with a group study, if the Senior Pastor created a study with his own teaching, the church can hit the ball out of the park. Just in the last 12 months, I’ve seen churches recruit 20-25 percent of their adults to lead groups, which has put group participation well over 100 percent. By offering the pastor’s teaching on a video-based curriculum, the congregation is getting more of what they already like — their pastor’s teaching! That might seem like a of work and a lot to figure out. I want to help you. I am putting together a six month coaching group specifically focused on creating your own curriculum and then launching the campaign in your church. You don’t need to pay someone tens of thousands of dollars to create curriculum for you. I can show you how you can do it yourself. If you would like more information, I am presenting a webinar called “Create Your Own Curriculum.” For specific times and registration: allenwhite.org/webinars or contact me at email@example.com. Not everyone will see things this way. And, that’s okay. But, to state it honestly, not everyone is seeing the results I’ve seen in the last year. Last year, the average church I worked with launched 277 groups. This could be you (provided you have 277 people!). For most churches, the pre-packaged campaign has gone the way of the dinosaur. If you’re still experience great success and have over 100 percent of your folks in groups, please correct me. For churches who’ve never tried a campaign, then buying one might help you make a good start. But, creating your own materials with your pastor’s teaching is the way of the future — it’s affordable, flexible, and best of all, it’s yours! Allen White helps Take the Guesswork Out of Groups. We offer books, online courses, coaching groups, and consulting.
By Allen White The new year is an awesome time for new starts. Everyone is planning to lose weight, lose debt, learn a foreign language, and of course, grow in their faith. The new year is an ideal time to start new groups too. Why not leverage the momentum before mid-February hits and new year’s resolutions crash and burn? The way you launch groups in the new year, however, will greatly affect your success. While this is an ideal time to form new groups, how and when you form groups will largely determine whether or not those groups last for more than one series, or in some cases, even get started. Here are some mistakes to avoid in new year’s launches. Mistake #1: Launching in Early January. Senior pastors love to start new sermon series after the first of the year. While the first Sunday of the year may be for vision casting or giving a “State of the Church” address, when it gets to the second Sunday, they are ready to get their preach on and dive into a new series. This is great for sermon series timing, but terrible for group timing. If your church launches groups in early January, it forces you to form groups in December. Have you lived through a December at church? No one is thinking about January. If they were, then they wouldn’t be buying so many Christmas presents on their credit cards. Over the years, I’ve tried to recruit and train new small group leaders in December. I’ve also found myself standing in an empty room wondering if I had missed God’s calling on my life. People don’t think about the new year until they are actually in the new year. To effectively launch groups in January, you need to use the first three weeks to form groups, then launch in late January, or better yet, launch in early February. Mistake #2: Failing to Leverage the Christian Holiday of Super Bowl Sunday. I know some of you might immediately be objecting to associating something as holy and spiritual as a small group with something as hedonistic as Super Bowl Sunday. After all, promoting anything about the Super Bowl will only weaken the attendance of the Sunday night service. At least, that’s the way I grew up. But, think about this: how would your members respond to the idea of small groups if it resembled something that looked more like their Super Bowl parties and less like what they fear a small group might be? No one calls the church to see who they should invite to a Super Bowl party. They invite their friends, co-workers, neighbors and family members. That’s the same group they should invite to their, well, group. In fact, if groups were launched after the Super Bowl, maybe the Super Bowl party could serve as an “open house” for a group and then the next week, the study could start. You may be saying, “Well, not every Super Bowl party would be suitable to introduce people to small groups. They might overeat or something and be a bad witness.” These things could happen. But, what if a small group became more “normal” to the average Christian’s life?. That would be a huge win. Mistake #3: Launching Groups in January without an Easter Plan. The downfall of most church-wide campaigns, including some I’ve launched over the years, is you can experience great success for 6 weeks, then the whole thing falls off the cliff. But, it doesn’t have to. If in the middle of your post-Super Bowl series (formerly called “New Year’s series”), you announced a next step series which would run between the Christian holidays of Easter Sunday and Memorial Day, you could easily retain 80 percent of the groups that start in your Super Bowl series. By offering a next step, your groups are given a good reason to stay together. Now, if your church is about to launch groups this Sunday, it might be time to take a timeout and regroup. Call an audible. Do what you need to do before you have to throw a Hail Mary or punt! If you try this, you should get at least 50 percent of your people connected into groups. If you don’t, call me. We’ll figure something out!
I caused a bit of a ruckus this week by proposing the idea of Disposable Small Groups. I used the analogy of disposable diapers versus cloth diapers. Here’s the bottom line (so to speak): diapers are useful for a brief period of time, but the goal is to potty train our children. If our small group ministries stay in diapers, we’re all in trouble.
While some small group strategies unfortunately produce groups that are short-lived or a system is not in place to sustain these groups beyond one series, the reality is this phenomena of “disposable groups” can be completely avoided, if the right things are in place.
1. Groups Require Coaching
I will admit coaching is a tough one. It’s hard to find the right people. Most small group pastors are unclear about the role of a coach. And, to top it all off, when you launch a church-wide campaign, whatever coaching system you did have in place is completely overwhelmed. I’ve been there. In fact, in our church in California we doubled our small groups in a day. Here’s how we figured out coaching.
Do the math: if you double your groups, then half of your groups are new and half of your groups have experience. We implemented the buddy system. We matched up an experienced leader with a new leader for the six week campaign. We didn’t call them “coach.” We called them “buddy” or “helper.” What we found was more of our new groups sustained and fewer of our groups were, uh, disposable.
At the end of the six weeks, we asked the experienced leaders if they enjoyed helping a new leader. If they did and they were effective, we invited them to coach a few new leaders during the next campaign while they continued to lead their existing groups.
Over time, this structure developed levels of Community Leaders, Coaches and Group Leaders similar to what Carl George advocates in Prepare Your Church for the Future. Just as Jethro instructed Moses in Exodus 18, we had leaders of tens, leaders of fifties, leaders of hundreds, and leaders of thousands. Or, in the case of that church, leader of thousand (singular).
A coaching structure may seem daunting, but without it, you are destined to produce disposable small groups.
2. Groups Need Training
People hate meetings. Meetings are inconvenient. People are busy. So, we really need to ask the question: What is training?
Training can be a blog post. In fact, that’s how this blog got started. I would answer one of my leader’s questions each week and send it to all of the rest.
Training can also appear on the curriculum DVD. By adding weekly training to the DVD, a leader has what they need when they need it as they go through the materials.
Training can be sent by video through an email. Any small group pastor/director with a smartphone, an iPad, or a laptop can record a 2 minute video (not longer) and send it out to his/her small group leaders each week. This is even better than training on the DVD, because you can answer timely questions as they are asked rather than anticipating what questions they might ask.
Yes, we still need initial training to get a group started. This could happen between services or even during a service, but we need to rethink small group training. If our leaders are learning through blogs, books, articles or video emails, then that IS training.
3. No EGR Left Behind
Every group sooner or later will encounter a difficult person. Personally, I am only comfortable in a group where I am the difficult person. No one is comfortable when a challenging person shows up to their group. But, there is help.
Identifying needs, even challenging ones, presents a great opportunity to offer help maybe in a way you weren’t able to before. Changes are the church staff may not have even known about the need. Don’t shy away from these opportunities to serve. While the group doesn’t need to turn into that individuals support group, you can direct them to support through actual support groups in the church or community as well as counseling resources. Of course, any person should be welcome to stay in your group, but they need to be reminded that the purpose of the group is for fellowship and Bible study not for group therapy.
4. There Are Always More Groups in the Sea, But Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Growing churches have great potential to recruit new hosts during every church-wide campaign. But, don’t turn this into a numbers game. Rather than merely celebrating in your group total, we need to celebrate whose groups are continuing and how these groups are growing deeper in relationship with each other and with God.
I hope you were disgusted with the idea of disposable small groups. While some groups will form for only one series, then disappear until the next church-wide campaign, this should be the exception and not the rule. By following these principles, disposable groups can be avoided.