Easter 2022 is an interesting moment. With most of the country easing their COVID restrictions, will people feel free to worship in-person for Easter? Or have two years worth of people watching online sunk in deep? And, considering these mixed feelings going into Easter, how big should the Easter 2022 group launch be? Or should there even be one? Let’s work this out.
Easter is Normally the #3 Group Launch of the Year
Easter is the Trip, Tracy, Trace of group launches. The biggest group launch by far is the fall launch in most places. The second biggest is the New Year. The third is Easter. Now, there are reasons not to launch groups after Easter, but Easter is also the biggest Sunday of the year. Easter is when everybody who calls your church “my church” will be there along with a handful of visitors. Why would you ignore the biggest Sunday of the year when it comes to launching groups? If everybody is there, wouldn’t it be a good idea to start something?
Easter 2022 Is Still Not Normal
Just when we thought that COVID had disappeared, we must acknowledge that COVID has still made everything weird. Pastors in states that just removed their mask mandates are saying that people who were comfortable attending with a mask are now staying home. Maskless worship seems a little too risky for some right now. They’ll be back, but not for a while.
Some people have become comfortable worshipping at home. While I’m a big proponent of digital discipleship, why isn’t the in-person service drawing them in? Why do people feel they don’t need the community of an in-person service? Will they come for Easter or will they stay home?
You may get some first time guests who are not “first time guests.” They’ve never been to your church. They’ve been watching online for a while. Since Easter is a big deal, this just might be the first time they decide to attend in-person. But, here’s the deal, when they show up, they are not technically first time guests. Some have been with you for quite a while. When they show up, they are ready for a next step. They are ready for a small group. They are ready to start growth track. You have to offer them something.
But, there’s another dynamic at play. Similar to the Roaring 20’s that followed the Spanish Influenza, after Easter people will be gone. They have been cooped up too long. The weather is getting warmer. AirBnB is calling. Soccer is kicking off. Baseball is in full swing. Track is…okay, I’ll stop. People are ready to get out. According to the Gauge Group, people will be traveling widely and just won’t be around. So, what does all of this mean for your spring group launch?
Plan an Easter Group Launch, but Lower Your Expectations
As I said before, traditionally an Easter launch is the smallest of the year. But, this Easter you will have some dedicated online worshippers showing up for the first time looking for a next step. Offer them a group. And, while many people will be headed out to enjoy the warm weather, not everyone will be on vacation from Easter until Labor Day. Offer them something too. Even if your groups focus more on group life than group meetings, it’s still worth offering something. But, keep your expectations low. Your Easter launch will not be as far up and to the right as you’d prefer. And, that’s okay. Any progress is progress these days.
Plan for the Fall Small Group Boom
Depending on where you live, your people have experienced various levels of restrictions, freedoms, and fears related to COVID. Some churches are seeing worship attendance equal to or even exceeding their pre-COVID numbers. Most churches are sitting around 50% in worship. Some churches have dramatically declined. COVID accelerated much of what was unfortunately inevitable for some.
A year ago, I predicted a Small Group Boom. Now, I will admit that I predicted it a year too soon. Our boom went bust with the appearance of the Delta and Omicron variants. But now, it’s game on! I anticipate that once COVID restrictions have finally disappeared, and people have had their time in the sun, the fall 2022 small group launch will be bigger than ever. People will be ready to get together. They’re ready to get back into community, but not just in any way.
The pandemic has made everyone a little pickier about how they spend their time and who they spend time with. New and online folks who just want a next step into groups won’t have as much of an opinion of whose group to join. They just want a spiritual next step. But, people who’ve been around don’t just want to be thrown into any group. By offering flexibility, allow your people to meet with whoever they want, whenever they want, and however they want. Groups can meet online or in-person, on-campus or off-campus – let your people choose the place. Then, let your people gather their people. After all, everyone is already in a group!
Think About This
Did I just talk out of both sides of my mouth? Probably, but purposefully. Any group launch that connects more people into groups and offers a spiritual next step is significant, even if it’s only a handful of groups. Offer something after Easter, but don’t pull out all of the stops on your group launch until fall. For now, make offerings, not demands. Post-Easter groups are available to everyone who is interested and available, but certainly not mandatory. Encourage groups to gather for fun, to serve together, and to gather prospective members socially over the spring and summer. Then, plan for the biggest fall group launch you’ve ever had.
When you think about all of the work that goes into a small group launch, you certainly want to choose the best season to launch groups. You certainly don’t want to do all of that work and get a poor result. After working with over 1,500 churches over nearly 20 years, three seasons have stood out as the most effective times to launch groups. While there is some variation for different geographic regions and for individual churches, these are the best practices for most churches.
The Best Time to Launch Groups
The fall launch is the biggest by far. Since many church calendars are influenced by the traditional public school calendar, the fall is when everything starts up again. But, keep in mind that not only do you need the most strategic time to launch groups, you also need to consider the best time to recruit leaders and connect people into groups.
Ask yourself, “When are most people back in church?” For some churches this is after Labor Day. For other churches this may be earlier. Once people are back, allow at least three weeks to recruit leaders and connect people into groups. Summer is not a great time to recruit leaders. You really need to recruit once the fall season is rolling.
Launch your series with the intention of the study ending by Thanksgiving in the U.S. (If you’re in Canada, launch your series after Thanksgiving, but end well before Christmas). Most groups will not meet in December for regular group meetings, but they could have a Christmas party or serve together.
The Second Best Time to Launch Groups
The new year is the second strongest time to launch small groups. Again, it’s a time of beginnings and New Year’s resolutions. But, there is a problem with launching in the new year.
Most pastors want to do a “State of the Church” sermon in early January to cast vision for the coming year (Remember, 20/20 vision?), then they want to launch right into a series. The issue is when do you recruit leaders and when do you connect people into groups? Many have tried and failed to do this during the Christmas season. People simply don’t think about the new year until they are in the new year.
The best way to launch groups in the new year is to use the month of January to recruit new leaders and connect people into groups, then run the study between the Christian holidays of Super Bowl Sunday and Easter. Some groups will even start with a Super Bowl party so everyone can get to know each other, then start the study the following week.
The Third Season to Launch Groups
Number three on our list is after Easter. Launching a series after Easter serves several purposes – you can connect your Easter crowd and get them to come back the following week. Usually if a small group study is connected with the sermon, people will attend more regularly, including the Sunday after Easter. See below for other articles about launch groups during the pandemic.
The drawback of the Easter launch is June, July, and August. Typically, groups don’t meet during the summer. Summer is a great time to focus on group life and not as much on group meetings. Remember, your people have been conditioned by the public school calendar. But, why would you start new groups just to watch them get lost in the summer? There are some ways to make this work.
Other Times to Launch Groups
Think of every opportunity when you can possibly launch groups. Launch women’s groups on Mother’s Day. Launch men’s groups on Father’s Day. Launch couples groups on Valentine’s Day. Launch singles groups on Columbus Day (Singles are searching…)
Don’t feel obligated to offer a group every week of the year. It’s awkward to join a group in the middle of a study or a semester. People wait for open enrollment for many other things. They can also wait to join a group. Now, to speak out of the other side of my mouth…
As a pastor you hate to turn anyone down when they need something. (I feel that). This is where your Sunday school classes, Bible studies, or other on-campus groups can play a role. People can join at any point, then when the next small group launch rolls around, they can join a group. If you don’t have any of these meetings, then keep a short list of small groups who do a great job of including new members.
You will notice and ebb and flow of group launches in this article. You push hard for groups in the fall, then back off during Christmas. You push hard again in January, then again after Easter, then back off in the summer. This pattern helps to build a stronger fall launch and a less complicated new year’s launch.
But, some of your people are hard core group meeting folks. That’s okay. The last men’s group I led met 52 weeks of the year at lunch every Wednesday. When it comes to the group meetings and group life balance, let groups decide what’s right for themselves.
past about the reasons why Easter may be not an optimal time to launch groups, Easter is the biggest Sunday of the year. There are new visitors. Everyone who calls your church home is there. Talk about a captive audience! But, what’s the best way to go about launching at Easter?
1. Start the Series BEFORE Easter.
Starting before Easter has a couple of key advantages. First, you can get more people to your Easter services. As your church members (and attenders) invite their friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and others to do a study with them, it’s very natural for your members to invite their group to an Easter service. (Notice the invitation is for new leaders to start new groups without using the word “leader” or “group.”) They’ve already committed to a study that involves Easter, so Easter services are a natural part of it. Studies likeThe Crucified Life from The Christian Life Triologyfits the bill.
The second advantage to starting the series before Easter is to keep people engaged in the weeks following Easter Sunday. The biggest Sunday of the year is often followed by one of the weakest Sundays of the year. The average person in the U.S. attends church 1.6 times per month. If they were there at Easter, you probably won’t see them for a week or two after.
By starting a series before Easter that continues after Easter, you not only get them to Easter services, but you keep them coming back the weekend after Easter. It’s part of the group study. They can’t miss. A study like All In: a small group experience based on the King’s Witness symbols covers five key events in the life of Jesus: He Came. He Died. He Arose. He Ascended He’s Coming Back.
The series starts two weeks prior to Easter, then ends two weeks after Easter. People will follow along with the series regardless of their normal pattern of skipping the Sunday after Easter because the series creates an open loop. Most people feel the need to complete what they’ve started. The pull through will benefit them as they study “He Ascended” about the coming of the Holy Spirit and the start of the Church and will get them to come back the Sunday after Easter to continue the series. For more information: allinsmallgroups.com. To preview and purchase the study guide, click here. (For full disclosure, I had something to do with this one.)
2. Start the Series ON Easter.
As stated earlier, everyone who calls your church their home church attends Easter services. A few years ago we created a study with Gene Appel, Senior Pastor of Eastside Christian Church, Anaheim, CA. Gene’s message on Easter was Hope Rising. We created a full video-based curriculum for Eastside in just 14 days (never again!).
Gene preached the Hope Rising message in their Easter services. On the way out the door, every person who attended Easter services received a copy of the study guide for the series. After distributing some 7,000 books that Easter, Eastside managed to launch 460 groups.
By capitalizing on the Easter attendance, the church formed more groups than they ever had. Attendance held for the weeks to come. After the Easter baskets and bunnies were stored away, the message of Hope Rising continued.
3. Start the Series AFTER Easter.
Now, you’ll notice a theme here…since Easter is the biggest attendance of the year…it’s a great time to advertise groups to your entire congregation in person on the one Sunday, weekend, or week when your Easter services happen. You really only have this one shot in the entire calendar year when everyone is there.
By promoting groups on Easter (and the Sundays leading up to Easter), you can give your people something to come back to the next week. While this does not have the same pull through of the other two strategies, it is an opportunity that is too good to pass up.
Consider a series that will appeal to your infrequent attendars and their unchurched friends. The great thing about CEOs (Christmas and Easter Only) is they have more relationships outside of the church than inside the church. While they could have invited their friends to Easter, for some that may have been too big of a step. But, inviting their friends into their home for a Bible study that meets a felt need is not only a much easier ask, but it’s also a much bigger impact on people seeking spiritual answers.
Don’t Waste the Easter Opportunity
Whether you decide to launch groups before, during, or after Easter, LAUNCH THEM! Some pastors would rather invest in a Fall or New Year launch, but Easter is unique. Everybody is there! You can’t pass that up.
How are you going to assimilate your Easter crowd this year? If you have other ideas to share, please leave your comments below.
By Allen White Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Matthew 26:36-38 Jesus consented to His mission long before He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. As God, He knew that there was no other way to redeem anyone except that He would lay down His life. One of the mysteries of faith is that Jesus is fully God and fully man. This is not a 50/50 equation. He is 100 percent God and 100 percent man. That is difficult to wrap our minds around, but that’s okay. As His crucifixion neared, Jesus went to the Gethsemane to pray and to work through some intense feelings. One might think that the Son of Man who so brashly proclaimed His divinity to the religious leaders would approach His death with more of a “git ur done” attitude. But, Jesus was overwhelmed with sorrow. As a man, Jesus had never experienced death, especially a death accompanied by such torture and humiliation. Anyone who can sit through the scenes in the movie, The Passion of the Christ, without falling apart, must have a heart of stone. The agony is overwhelming. Jesus knew what was coming. As God, Jesus faced taking on “the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). This may have brought more anguish than the prospect of physical pain. Jesus had never been separated from the Father, not even in a small degree. Now, the Holy One, who had always been set apart from evil, would take on all of it and face separation from the Father. The driving aspect of Jesus’ sorrow was over the lostness of people. He viewed us as “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Jesus knew that there was no other way for us to be reconciled with God. We certainly couldn’t save ourselves. At Gethsemane, Jesus proves many things to us. He gives us the most extreme example of fully surrendering ourselves to God. Jesus doesn’t present obedience to the Father as the path to a problem-free life. He shows us that there is something better than a life devoid of troubles; namely, a blessed life. Jesus expressed that real men experience real emotions. It’s okay to be overwhelmed. It’s okay to feel sorrowful. It’s okay to take those things to the Father. Jesus showed us how important we are to Him. At great personal sacrifice, He died for our sins. “God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son…” (John 3:16). Where do these words intersect with your life today? What are you feeling deeply that you need to lay before God? What are you struggling with that you need might need to surrender to Him?
By Allen White Easter is only 12 weeks away. Did I scare you? 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