Stuck is not a good feeling. It’s that place where you feel you’ve tried everything you can think of to recruit more leaders, connect people into groups, and keep them going, yet your numbers aren’t showing the success you would hope for.
Getting stuck is common in small group ministry. Some people get stuck at the start of a groups’ ministry and just don’t know what to do. More commonly, groups get stuck at having only 30-50 percent of the congregation connected into groups. This is the point where a single strategy typically runs out of steam. The temptation is to scrape the strategy that got you part of the way there and replace it with another strategy that will get you all of the way there. But, there’s a problem.
No single strategy will help you connect 100 percent of your adults into groups. It simply does not exist. But, there’s good news. There is no rule that says you can only use on strategy at a time. Rather than replacing a strategy that got you 30-50 percent there, just add another strategy that will help you connect the next 30 percent of your congregation. Then, add a third strategy after that.
One size does not fit all. Everyone won’t say “yes” to the same thing. If 30 percent said “yes” to say, the metachurch model or the host home strategy, then celebrate that success. While if you persist, you can bump participation up to 50 percent or so, neither of these strategies will get 100 percent. And, that’s okay. If half of your congregation said, “no” to these approaches, then you need to figure out something different that they might say “yes” to. If this sounds like your story, then you’re in good company. This was also my story. I worked for seven years handpicking leaders and forming groups only to see 30 percent of our adults connected into groups. My leaders couldn’t identify apprentices in their groups, so recruiting new leaders all fell on me. Not only were there no apprentices, but groups didn’t want to divide and make new groups. After seven years, we were stuck. But, then we tried something different.
We actually did a few things different. We created our own curriculum based on our pastor’s teaching videos. My pastor recruited leaders from the pulpit rather than me handpicking them. We even reached a place where people just invited their friends to do a study together. They didn’t even call themselves “leaders” or “groups.”
Long story short, within six months, we had connected 125 percent of our average adult attendance into groups. We were actually using five different strategies at the same time! Everybody in our church found something they could say, “Yes” to.
Then, we faced the task of keeping these groups going. It’s fairly easy to generate a lot of excitement about groups for a six week study, but motivating groups for the long haul takes some effort. We supported our new leaders with coaches and offered them next steps for studies to continue their groups. We also discovered that how the groups were formed made a big difference in whether or not the groups would stay together. Hint: Groups of friends tend to last longer than groups of strangers.
By Allen White People typically don’t find a lot of success in promoting something they fear. They can actually be relieved when they have a poor result. There is less to be afraid of. On pastor admitted to me, “What if I put myself out there and no one responds? I would be embarrassed.” That is definitely true. The answer is don’t invite people to something you don’t believe in. But, what do you and your church believe in? First, if you’re a small group pastor or director, ask yourself where does your pastor want to start? If your pastor is more risk averse like I used to be, then ask for your pastor’s help to handpick solid citizens who could lead groups, then promote those groups. You won’t get as far as you would if you threw down the gauntlet to everyone. But, you will get much farther than if you went beyond where your pastor wants to go. Start where your pastor wants to start, then we will see where it goes from there. Once you have the first success under your belt, then your pastor will be open to try other things. I’ve also seen the reverse. Sometimes the pastor wants to go full bore, but the small group pastor or director are more risk averse. While you definitely don’t want to squander the opportunity, you also have to reach a place where your fear doesn’t impede your success. A few years ago, we were working with a very large church. This is a great church with a great history of biblical teaching and a solid group ministry, but their groups needed to catch up with their attendance. In one teleconference, the small group team reported back that their existing group leaders were fearful of the Gather and Grow strategy. They perceived many problems from letting the uninitiated lead a group. Now, part of their concern related to the fact the experienced leaders had paid their dues in the leadership process, and now “You’re just going to let anybody in?” I said a quick prayer during the teleconference, “God, what do I say to them? This could be dead in the water.” After I finished listening to the concerns, these words came out of my mouth, “This isn’t a call to leadership. This is a call to obedience, because we are all called to go and make disciples.” The room was quiet. I wasn’t sure what would happen next. Maybe I killed it. Then someone spoke up and said, “Could you repeat that?” Suddenly, the light came on for them (and for me). The Gather and Grow strategy was the way to go. The Senior Pastor was already there, but it took his team a little more time. When it was all said and done, hundreds of people offered to gather their friends and grow together using video curriculum based on their senior pastor’s teaching. I’ve had staff members freak out when their senior pastors have suddenly taken initiative in the staff member’s area of ministry. They’ve said things like, “Why couldn’t we plan ahead on this? We could be better prepared for the response. We could do this in a better way.” Some folks have become downright angry over their pastors meddling in their area of ministry. If your senior pastor takes an interest in small groups out of the blue, first, thank God your pastor is interested in groups. Then, do whatever you have to do to make it work. After all, you don’t know when this opportunity may come again. Some pastors are strategic and lead with a road map. But, some pastors are more intuitive. Their leadership appears more like a lightning strike. Learn to organize yourself around those lightning strikes and make the most of it. Excerpt from Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potentialby Allen White. Published by Hendrickson Publishers. Copyright (c) 2017 by Allen White Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Pastor Matthew Hartsfield, Bay Hope Church, Lutz, FL
For most churchgoers, the initial draw to a church is the pastor’s teaching and the music. As hard as the other church staff work in their roles, this is the simple truth. The senior pastor plays a highly significant role in the spiritual lives of his congregation. By connecting the small group study to the weekend message, you can leverage the influence of the senior pastor in leading his people to connect in small groups. Once the pastor has created a video curriculum, his next question will be “How do we use this? How do we recruit more leaders? How do we get people into groups?” Don’t you want your senior pastor asking those questions? What’s important to the senior pastor will be what’s important to the congregation. Bulletins, video announcements, website – none of these come close to having the #1 influencer in the church direct the congregation. When the pastor asks for people to host groups, people will host groups. When the pastor invites members to join groups, members will join groups. When E.F. Hutton talks… I learned this lesson over a decade ago. I had spent seven years recruiting and training leaders to find only 30 percent of our congregation in groups. But, the first time our senior pastor stood up and asked for host homes, we doubled our groups in one day. I never looked back. He did all of the recruiting and leading from that point forward. I have not recruited a group leader myself since 2004, even though I have served in another church since then. The Pastor’s Teaching on Video Curriculum Moves the Weekend Message Beyond the Church Walls. When church members invite their friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives and others to join them for a church-produced Bible study, the senior pastor is introduced to many more people than actually attend the church on Sunday. In homes, workplaces, Starbucks and even commuter trains, the pastor’s teaching goes out to many new people. Often new people will meet the pastor via video before they meet him in person. But, the transition from the living room to the church auditorium now is not quite as daunting. New folks feel they’ve already met the pastor through the weekly group studies. And, don’t tell the group hosts and leaders, but they’re actually doing evangelism. Shhh. A Simple Teaching Tool Puts Group Multiplication on Steroids. A video curriculum is easy to use. In fact, someone who has never led before simply needs to follow the instructions. The teaching on the video provides the wisdom and expertise. The questions in the book provide the pathway for a great discussion. Pushing play and reading questions is not so hard. Think about this: every person in your church has friends. The people who are less involved in the church will actually have far more friends outside of the church. What if your church members each gathered a group of 8-10 people for a video-based study featuring your senior pastor? Could a church of 100 members reach 1,000 people? What about a church of 1,000 going after 10,000? What about a church of 13,000 reaching over 100,000? Is it possible? The Bible says all things are possible with God. Excerpt from Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potentialby Allen White. Published by Hendrickson Publishers. Copyright (c) 2017 by Allen White Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
I am not a Pantheist, regardless of what Amazon thinks. A lady called me a couple of years ago and asked if I was “Allen White.” Naturally, I responded, “Yes.” She went on to say how much she loved my book. At the time, I hadn’t written a book. I explained my confusion. She then asked if I was the Allen White who wrote God Is All. I told her I was not, and we ended our conversation. Now I was curious. Allen White the Theist (Monotheist, Trinitarian Allen White, to be exact) needed to see what Allen White the Pantheist was up to. I did a search and ordered a copy of God Is All, by Allen White (the Pantheist). It was a small, self-published paperback written by an Allen White from Kentucky. My family lived in Kentucky a few generations back, so who knows, maybe this was a distant cousin. If we traced the family tree back far enough, Pantheist Allen White would probably say we were also related to the tree itself. I really didn’t think much about Pantheist Allen White until last week. I discovered that Amazon had linked my book, Exponential Groups, to the author profile of one Pantheist Allen White. Great, now my potential audience thinks I’m forming groups with people and chairs and coffee tables as members. Churches will have “home groups” because the home is also a member of the group! My publisher snapped into action and contacted Amazon ASAP. Theist Allen White’s book was unplugged from Pantheist Allen White’s author profile. Heresy was overted. Maybe I should have published as “Rudolph,” my first name and also the name of a certain reindeer. <Sigh> If you’re interested in Exponentials Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential by Theist Allen White, please check out the endorsements and reviews at exponentialgroupsbook.com.
By Allen White When I started talking about writing a book on small groups, I often encountered a reaction that went like this: “Really, another small group book? What else is there to say?” Truth be told, I would have thought the exact same thing. People who are smarter and more experienced than me had written really great books. What was left to say? Then, I began to notice some things in the church world. These weren’t hidden things, but there were certainly needs. This is why I wrote Exponential Groups.
I Saw Pastors Who Were Stuck.
Some of these pastors had tried groups and failed. I’ve been there. Others connected 30 percent of their congregations into groups, then once they had the low hanging fruit, they began to spin their wheels. I’ve also been there. Others were stuck at 50 percent, and then others were stuck at 65 percent. Quite a few had topped 100 percent of their congregation in groups for a church-wide study, but then watched their numbers slide once the series was over. That doesn’t feel very good. I’ve had that feeling too. I remember reading about a chef (stay with me), who through all of his failures and frustrations learned to not only properly make sauces, but also to teach others to make sauces. If the trainee’s sauce didn’t turn out correctly, then the chef knew exactly where the young cook had made the mistake, because the chef had failed at every point of making the sauce himself over the years. This is how I feel about groups ministry. I remember launching 10 groups in January 1994 and seeing them all end in December 1994. I know exactly why that happened. The same for getting stuck with only 30 percent of our adults in groups after seven years of building groups. (By the way, 30 percent is a very common place for groups to get stuck). And, I have stories for every other place listed above. What I’ve discovered is my education in the school of hard knocks as well as working through the frustration that eventually helped me find success is the most valuable thing I can give any pastor and church. It’s very gratifying to me to watch what was once my ceiling become other pastors’ floors.
I Saw Christians Who Were Comfortable.
Back when we invited people to seeker services, often we encouraged folks to “Sit back, relax, and enjoy the service.” When we eventually came around to ask these folks to serve, we discovered they had taken us up on our offer to get comfortable at church. While this isn’t true of every church and every believer, it is true of many. Comfort prevents growth — personal growth, ministry growth, and church growth. For the most part people grow when they are going through a painful circumstance or when they take a risk. Let’s face it: we are all more motivated to pray while we’re facing a problem than when things are calm. I quickly realized that Discipleship through Suffering was not going to catch on very quickly. But, what if we challenged people to take a risk? Could they leave their comfort and try something a little risky for a short period of time? More people jumped at the opportunity than I thought possible. There is a way to grow your church and grow your people without wrecking the whole thing.
I Saw a Sleeping Giant and a World in Need.
Our guests became an audience. Audiences must be entertained or else they will find another church that is more entertaining. It’s as if the American church has retired. Francis Chan said the American church is not “good soil,” but is really “thorny ground.” We live in an age of constant distraction. It’s an era of convenience. Even though people are busy by their own choice, what they invest their lives in typically has little to do with the Kingdom. Why? For one, they may not know and understand the significance of God’s work. But, as Chris Hodges, pastor of Church of the Highlands, Birmingham, AL said this last week at the ARC conference, “Growth is not an option as long as Heaven and Hell are realities.” But, this leads to another problem — many Christians perceive ministry as another thing to add on to their already busy lives. They just don’t have time. But, what if ministry could be done with the friends they have during the activities they are already doing? Where’s the excuse? Well, then they might say, “I’m not a leader. I’m not a teacher.” Give them a video-based curriculum. They don’t have to be the teacher, and you don’t have to worry about what they might teach a group of friends. The teaching came from you. If they can gather their friends for the video teaching, then they are leaders whether they give themselves that title or not. Audiences must be entertained. But, what if we saw our church members as an army? An army must be equipped and empowered. An army must be led. What if we could awaken the sleeping giant of the American church, call them out of retirement, and give them new marching orders? What if they began to depend on God and each other instead of borrowing from their pastors’ spirituality? If you’re willing to try something new, I wrote a book for you.