By Allen White
The delusion of success is that what we need next is more of what we’re already experienced. After all, if Host Homes and Turbo Groups and Apprentices and Church-wide Campaigns helped us connect the first 70 percent of our members into groups, then one last push should put us over the top. For those of us who have achieved 71 percent or more, we understand that this simply isn’t true. What connected the first 70 percent will not connect the last 30 percent – no matter how attractive the appeal.
The last 30 percent fall into one of three categories – Independent, Introverted or Isolated. These folks do not want to fit into anyone’s system. They would rather practice personal spiritual disciplines like contemplation rather than face their greatest fear – your living room. They might have a disability or a disadvantage that keeps them away. A cookie cutter approach is not the answer.
Independent people struggle with our systems. They are smart enough to know that they don’t really need one. They don’t buck the system as much as they just avoid it. There natural leaders look at things much differently than the connected 70 percent.
Our church was launching a church-wide campaign in Fall a few years ago. A long-time member called and told me that he had an unofficial small group. I’m never threatened by such an admission. Secretly, I wished every member had this news to share. He asked if his group could do the church-wide study. I told him, “Absolutely not,” and then I laughed. Then, I asked him why his group was flying under the radar.
“Well, it’s like Dean Martin used to say,” he started. (Huh?) “The difference between a drunk and an alcoholic is that drunks don’t go to all of those meetings.” (My apologies to folks in recovery. The meetings are a good thing). I told him that I only had two meetings a year. He said that might be possible.
Independent folks don’t want to fit into a system. And, they know that they don’t have to. They’re not rebellious as much as they just dance to the beat of their own drummer. They don’t want recognition. They don’t want training. They don’t want supervision. They just want to get together with friends. Sometimes they’ll discuss spiritual things. Other times they’ll go to dinner. They are a small group. They just don’t obsess over structure like most pastors do.
Independents won’t attend Host Briefings or Leadership Training. It’s not that they’re above that. It’s just against their nature. Most independents possess a leadership gift already. They are capable to lead. They just need an opportunity. So, how do you get independents involved in groups?
Give them the material with no strings attached. They know how to lead. They know how to gather a group. They just need the materials. Now, for all of the control freaks who are hyperventilating at this point — by selecting the curriculum, you have given direction to the group. Most leaders are not working hard to teach heresy or form a cult. They are devoting themselves to vacuuming their living rooms and preparing refreshments.
Starting groups for independents is as simple as putting a table in your church’s lobby with a sign that says, “Start Your Own Group.” Find out who they are and get their contact information. Give them all of the resources you would give any new leader. Give them access to a coach who can answer their questions at their request. When the six-week study ends, invite them to leadership training. They may or may not attend. That’s okay. When they need help, they will come and find you. Independents need a long, invisible leash.
Some pastors object. “Why can’t these independent folks honor the authority that God has placed over them by doing it my way?” Whoa. Calm down. That kind of thinking will keep you right at the numbers you currently have. Community is much bigger than your system or even your church.
To attract the Independents in the last 30 percent, you must be willing to take a different approach. If you start where people are comfortable, then you can lead them to other things. If you try to start where they’re uncomfortable, you’ll lead them nowhere.
Connecting the Last 30 Percent Part 2: Engaging Introverts
Including the Isolated
By Allen White
By Allen White
Connecting in Communities is smart on many levels. Eddie Mosley gives us not just the ‘what’, but also the ‘why’ and ‘how’. He is not a philosopher or a demagogue. He is a practitioner with a heart for God and a heart for people. You can tell that Eddie didn’t write this book merely to sell books. He has a genuine passion for small groups and for helping other pastors and group directors.
First, Eddie shows how he has consulted with the best of the best in small group thinking and practice: Steve Gladen of Saddleback Church, Carl George, aka Small Group Yoda, Bill Donahue of Willow Creek, Bill Willits of North Point and many others. Why reinvent the wheel when you can build on the knowledge and experience of others? After carefully gleaning from these thought-leaders, Eddie does an even smarter thing — he adapts the best of these models to his church’s mission and culture.
Too many pastors are looking for a silver bullet out there that will be the one-size-fits-all, homerun solution that will address every issue and help every person grow spiritually. That silver bullet doesn’t exist. Eddie wisely integrates what works for others into what works for his church, LifePoint. In the book, we read about the host home strategy, the GroupLink strategy, the neighborhood strategy, the free market strategy among others. LifePoint has adjusted the strategies to fit the life of the church rather than adjusting the church to fit someone else’s strategy. Too many pastors are prone to throwing out what is working for some and replacing it with what might or might not work at all. LifePoint adds to their success by implementing additional strategies for success. They are in favor of whatever works rather than whoever is right. This is the smartest thinking to come along in a long time.
What makes the book even better is that Eddie shares stories, positive and negative, from his own experience. He is not writing from an ivory tower. He’s writing from the trenches. He lives where his reader lives. His humility in sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of groups is refreshing and encouraging.
Connecting in Communities is the new primer for small group ministry. Whether you are just starting out in leading groups or you’re in need of a course correction, this book will inspire and inform you of some of the best practices in small group ministry today. The only thing that might have made this book better is if it were mine. Not that I would have done a better job, I would just love to have the credit.
Get your copy of Connecting in Communities.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen
Leading Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen
By Allen White
David had Jonathan. Moses had Aaron. Peter and Paul had Mary. John, Paul and George had Ringo (well, until Yoko Ono broke them up.) Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Who is your partner in ministry? Last week, we talked about the importance of a co-leader. But, how do you find one? Here are some qualities to look for:
1. Are they breathing? A dead man will do no good.
2. Is this person a growing believer? It doesn’t really matter how long a person has been a Christian. The question is “are they growing?” Some people have repeated the same two years of their Christian experience ten times, so they’ve been a Christian for 20 years. But, are they growing? Are they actively seeking God? Do they pray and see their prayers answered? Are they allowing God to work in their lives to forsake sin and to see God’s Kingdom grow?
3. Is this person interested in the group? In selecting a co-leader, consider the folks who care the most about your group. Who is there more often than not? Who lets you know when they have to miss? These are good indicators of how important the group is to the person.
4. Who creates warmth? Are people drawn toward the person, or does he repel others? Now, that doesn’t mean that this has to be the biggest hugger in your group. That person could just be needy. You want the person who is open and accepting of others.
5. Who has shown some skills? As your group has passed around the leadership for the discussion, who has shown potential by leading the discussion well? Were they sensitive to what was going on with the group members? Did the discussion get beyond the surface of the questions? While these skills can be taught, if a person shows a natural knack for leading, you might have a winner.
6. Who gives you the most trouble? Often the opinionated and the instigators in the group have leadership gifts. While your first inclination would be to run them off, the better thing would be to redirect them. To engage their leadership ability in a positive way will help the person and help the group.
These are just a few things to look for. In my time with Brett Eastman out at Saddleback Church and Lifetogether.com, I learned that rather than popping the question right away, it’s better to give a potential co-leader different responsibilities and see how they perform. Brett called this “Crawl, Walk, Run.” If they aren’t ready to lead a whole study, could they lead a section of the study? If they’re not ready to lead a section, have them lead the opening question.
Take your time in choosing a co-leader. Don’t just stop with question number one. Take your time, but don’t take forever. Your co-leader will be an awesome ally in your group ministry.
by Allen White
When our family was living in Orange County, California, we had the privilege of being part of Saddleback Church. Saddleback is an awesome church. While they currently have an attendance of about 30,000 people and 3,000-4,000 small groups, my impression is that they are just getting started.
As I traveled with Brett Eastman and the team from Lifetogether.com, I was often asked, “So how’s your small group going?” I would sheepishly bow my head and reply, “I’m not in small group right now.” I knew that this “do as I say, but not as I do” thing would not stand up for long. So, I decided to join one of Saddleback’s then 2,000 small groups back in 2006.
I filled out the response card on Sunday morning requesting information on men’s groups. I received a letter in the mail directing me to look on the website. I had already been on there. That’s partly why I turned in the response card. The website gave me what every small group website gives you: Group Name, Leader Name, Day of the Week, Time of Day, Location and Current Study. How did I know which group to try? It was a crap shoot.
Now, I was a bit of an odd duck at Saddleback. Through my position at Lifetogether, I knew all of the pastors. I just didn’t know many of the members. If a friend had invited me to Saddleback, then they would have shown me the small group ropes. But, I was an “outsider.” I didn’t have that connection.
What I began to realize that day was every church has a lot of “outsiders.” A job or a warmer climate brought them to the area. They don’t have extended family. They like the Sunday morning service, but beyond that they are just at a loss as to where to get started.
Some brave souls will roll the dice and contact a group through the web. They believe in the importance of small groups, so they will tough out the awkwardness of the introduction to get to the good stuff. But, there is a better way.
For seven years now, at both New Life Christian Center and Brookwood Church, we have offered a Small Group Connection after the services on the Sunday morning prior to a new series and the Sunday morning of the new series. Group leaders and new group hosts are available to meet prospective members face to face. Most people have a sense of the leader within the first 30 seconds. Is this a person they would hang out with for the next six weeks? If so, then they sign up right on the spot. If not, then they meet another leader until they find a group they would like to try.
I’ve found that prospective members discover old neighbors, high school classmates and even co-workers. Even those who don’t know any of the leaders at least have a face with a name, so they aren’t walking into someone’s house cold turkey on the first night of group.
There is a place for the small group website, but honestly, why depend on a programmatic method to form small groups that are highly relational? There is no substitute for a personal invitation and a face to face meeting.
I eventually found a men’s group at Saddleback Church. The leader was a former preacher. He talked too much. I went twice, then I stopped going. Today, I have a great lunchtime group that has met every Wednesday for two years. It also is probably led by a preacher that talks too much.