Fall 2022 promises to be the largest small group launch season you’ve ever seen. Now that COVID is behind you for the most part and the weather is warming up, people are gone. Don’t believe me? Go price an airline ticket right now. For more on this prediction, go here.
Now that you are convinced, partially convinced, or skeptical that this small group boom is a few months away, how do you prepare? What do you need to have in place? Here are some things to consider:
Maximum Groups Require Maximum Leaders
If you want to launch a group, you have to have a leader. No leader means no group. It’s as simple as that. This reminds me of a conversation back when our church was on-boarding a new children’s pastor. I said, “There are two parts to children’s ministry: (1) Recruiting the leaders, and (2) Keeping the leaders happy.”
Our new children’s pastor asked, “But, when do I get to work with the kids?”
I replied, “You weren’t listening.” He chose to invest his time and energy into leading the kids instead of leading the leaders. His children’s leaders weren’t happy and started quitting. We hired a new children’s pastor not long after that.
You could say the same for small groups. There are two parts to small group ministry: (1) Recruiting group leaders, and (2) Supporting those leaders. Don’t get bogged down trying to find groups for people. Don’t hold the hand of every person who fills out a sign up card for groups. To put it bluntly: this is a waste of your time. Put your effort into recruiting leaders, and then teach the leaders to gather their groups.
Don’t Worry About Connecting 100% into Groups
In the early days of church-wide campaigns, this was the rallying cry: Connect Your Entire Congregation into Community! Been there. Done that. What we discovered was that connecting 100% of a church’s adult attendance into groups is too small of a goal. The more significant metric is the percentage of your congregation LEADING groups.
Our family moved back to my hometown of Topeka, Kansas last summer. We attend the church where I grew up. I get to sit next to my dad every Sunday. It’s nice. But, the church is probably 10% of the attendance it was back in the day. On a good Sunday, there are about 50 people there.
When I showed up, the pastor said, “Well, we’re doing pretty good with small groups. We have one group. That takes care of everyone who wants one.”
I wanted to grab him by the lapels and yell, “You’re looking at this all wrong. You don’t want 50 people in groups. You want 50 people leading groups!” But, I refrained, primarily because he wasn’t wearing lapels, and I promised my wife that I wouldn’t wear my consulting hat to church. I just sit there biting my tongue (until I’m asked). This is also a good marriage lesson for some.
How do you launch 100 groups in your church?
You don’t need 1,000 people to start 100 groups. You need 100 people willing to lead a group. If you have a leader, then you have a group.
Think about who you have in the church. These are the people who rode out the pandemic with you. These are the people who stuck with you and the church through thick and thin. You have to admit that the last two years were not for the faint of heart. Do you think they stuck with you to just take up space? These are your leaders. This is your army. Give them their marching orders.
I know what you’re thinking. You are thinking about that guy or that gal who is a little off. Right? You’re afraid that if they step up to lead a group that you will just have another headache. Your biggest problem is found in the first two words of the last sentence: You’re afraid. Fear not!
Janet Logan gave me a priceless thought about 25 years ago: “Some of the most unlikely people will make some of your best leaders.” That has proven true.
Everybody has friends. If the people who are a little odd invite their friends and acquaintances, those folks know what they’re in for. They know the person. They’re friends! If they don’t have any friends, well, that’s different story.
Loosen Up Your Leadership Requirements for a Season
Don’t lower the bar, but delay some of your requirements to let people test drive a group. You can attempt to convince people that small groups are awesome until you are blue in the face, but they won’t understand until they experience it for themselves. If you invite your people to gather a group of friends, meet online or in-person, give them easy-to-use curriculum, and support them with a coach, most people will have a very good experience that they’ll want to continue. Once they’ve completed a study or two, then you can invite them to fulfill the requirements that you initially delayed.
Most people don’t regard themselves as being any kind of a leader. But, most people DO regard themselves as being a friend. If they have enough influence to gather their friends, then they have promise as a group leader. As John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence.”
Think About This
Things aren’t going to go back to 2019. They’re just not. The world has changed. The culture has changed. What used to work for your groups will not work as well now. It’s time to try something new.
Spend some time thinking about a new approach to recruiting leaders. Pray about what’s next for you and your church. If you need to talk about this, then click this link and set up a time with me. No charge!
People often choose a word for the year. The word sets an overall theme or a goal to pursue. The word for small groups in 2021 is flexible.
Starting in March 2020, people divested themselves of most involvement. From church attendance to a gym membership to children’s sports and grocery shopping in a store. Don’t believe me? Look at the number of churches struggling to find children’s ministry workers in order to offer more in-person services. Your people gave everything up. Now, they will be pickier about what they will bring back.
Not only are they pickier about what to spend their time on, they are also pickier about who they spend their time with. Given all of the information and misinformation about the global pandemic, your people are ready to get back together with the people they know and love. They’re not looking to connect with a group of strangers. Why forsake their friends to spend more time with a group of people they don’t know and possibly won’t like?
Other people started attending your church online. They are ready to take next steps and maybe join a group to grow spiritually and make church friends. A consistent theme that I’m hearing from pastors across the country is this: In-person attendance is down. Giving is steady. Salvations and baptisms are way up. How are you going to disciple your online congregation? (Here’s what’s still working with online small groups).
And, speaking of the global pandemic, there is still a lot of confusion. Who’s been vaccinated? Do you need to wear a mask? Is it okay to go back out? This spring in our small group launch at Mount Hope Church, Lansing, Michigan, we launched 88% more new groups, but found that people wanted to launch a group in the way they were comfortable. Regarding the pandemic this meant online only groups, invitation only groups with people the host already knew, groups wearing masks, groups meeting outside, and groups that were over it. Did we plan out all of those categories? Absolutely not. People created a group with who they wanted to meet with, where they wanted to meet, and how they wanted to meet. All we had to do was give them permission and opportunity. The group hosts did the rest.
Your people will be gone this summer, if they haven’t gone already. Don’t plan on a big small group semester this summer. Let them go. They’ll be back. I predicted this back in March 2021.
The other thing I see coming is the fall small group boom. People have been kept apart for a long time. People are ready to take spiritual next steps. But, people are pickier, so you must be flexible in what you offer and how you offer it.
This doesn’t mean that you need to wreck your current small group system. That would be stupid. Here’s why. But, you do need to add some options for how your people can start new groups that are more flexible. Maybe you don’t even call them “groups.” Maybe you delay some of the requirements. If you’re not open to those ideas, then start groups of three people. Invite people to start with “you plus two.” For most churches that’s too small to be a small group, so you can dodge the leader requirements for a season.
The more flexible your approach to groups, the more people you will have living in obedience to the Great Commission. The more people you have living in obedience, well, the better your church is!
How can you be more flexible in your next group launch?
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.
The timing of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma couldn’t be worse considering when many churches in the Houston area, Florida, and other places are getting ready for their Fall Small Group Launches. If your congregation and community have been drastically effected by these storms, here are some things to consider:
Is Your Topic Sensitive to Hurricane Victims?
I’ve talked to more than one pastor in the past week, who were questioning their Fall series based on the devastation of hurricanes. Both were planning a financial or generosity series this Fall. The timing couldn’t be worse for these topics. The reality is that many people have lost a lot and some have lost everything. The harder truth will come when folks apply for government assistance only to find 1 out of 5 will be declined. People will be dealing with grief, anger, and depression. A financial or generosity series will only rub salt in the wound. One Houston area church has already called an audible. They postponed their financial series and are quickly putting together a series on hope. They realize their people will need an uplifting message at this point. How are they pulling this off? They are having a study written for them through LifeWay’s smallgroup.com, then they are shooting weekly videos by their pastors which their congregation can access from Youtube. For the folks who haven’t connected their computers with the internet, they might still need a DVD. Just duplicate single session DVDs each week. You don’t need a menu, just insert the disk and let it play. Some churches have even created series like this with a smartphone.
Are You Focusing on the Right Thing?
These storms have left a lot of people with a real mess. Now, while everyone was stuck at home because their workplaces were closed or gasoline was unavailable to get them to work, there were plenty of neighbors available to help each other deal with storm damage. Once people can go back to work, the damage won’t go away by itself. Maybe instead of small groups focusing on group meetings for the next 4-6 weeks, they should focus on group life and serving. God speaks to us and works through us when we serve those in need. With so much need around us, maybe it’s time to put down our Bibles and pick up our tools. This doesn’t mean the group should never meet. But, for a season maybe the group should follow a different pattern. The community as well as the group will be blessed for it.
From my viewpoint in the upstate of South Carolina, we are getting the remainder of Tropical Storm Irma today. Rain is steady and winds are strong, but we’re not in crisis, even though bottled water is sold out at every store. We are safe and dry inside our homes and workplaces here. If I were sitting in Miami or Houston today, maybe my admonition would be stronger (or weaker). Please don’t take these thoughts as gospel. You must take your senior pastor’s lead on the best way to proceed this Fall. You can share this post with them and say you found this from some know-it-all on the internet. God speaks to your pastor. He will give you the right direction. This is just food for thought.