Reviewed By Allen White When you look at the success of groups at Saddleback Church, it would be easy, though cynical, to assume that you can only achieve that number of groups if they are an inch deep and a mile wide. After observing and participating in the ministry of Saddleback for the last 18 years, I have discovered that Saddleback is both deep and wide. They cast a broad net to recruit small group H.O.S.T.s and to connect their members into groups. Today, Saddleback has over 3,500 small groups with more folks in groups than in their weekend services. This is due in large part to their small group champion, Rick Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Church. A God-given idea and Pastor Rick’s influence produced 2,000 new group hosts in their first 40 Days of Purpose campaign. His influence is huge in connecting people into groups. But, connecting and sustaining are two different animals. Steve Gladen in Small Groups with Purpose outlines a success story not just for retaining numbers, but for life transformation and leadership development. Having run many successful church-wide campaigns myself, I know that it’s easy to create a spike in groups during a campaign, but helping those groups to continue is another animal. In this book, Steve Gladen outlines a powerful strategy for gaining and maintaining momentum. Coaching and training are Saddleback’s keys to effective group leaders. Steve presents a unique coaching strategy. Community Leaders, rather than coaches, serve 20-25 groups leaders. This system works due to a key insight: not every group leader needs the same level of coaching. By determining whether the group is new, growing, mature or stubborn, community leaders offer an appropriate level of care. This is good news for churches who have yet to develop a healthy coaching structure, in that, existing groups have learned how to get along good enough without a coach. New coaches can focus on new leaders, and essentially serve existing leaders by benign neglect. In the book, Steve Gladen articulates a proven strategy for starting and sustaining new leaders. At Saddleback, H.O.S.T.s start with the experience of leading a group for six weeks, then they are introduced to training. After leading for a few weeks, the training is more meaningful to the new leaders and can be directly applied to their group. Churches often make the mistake of over-training before a leader even starts to lead. If the prospective leader can survive the training, then they can lead a group. In my opinion, over-training actually reflects more of the small group pastor’s insecurity and need for control rather than adequately preparing members to lead. Community Leaders provide the help that new leaders need at Saddleback. Having someone in the new leader’s life is far more significant than endless hours of training up front. Another outstanding strength of Saddleback’s training system is the intentional, on-going training pathway. Once leaders have completed Leadership Training 1, they receive care from their Community Leader and are offered on-going training that is appropriate to their skills and experience. The genius of this system is that all of the leaders start Leadership Training 2 with the third module, Health, then proceed to future modules based on their needs and experience as a leader. Custom, just-in-time training is key to serving new leaders and keeping their interest and participation in training. Cookie cutter, “one size fits all” training is a relic of the past. No small group pastor should blame their leaders for not attending training. If you’re not scratching where they itch, it’s on you. Balancing the five biblical purposes produces healthy group members. While many churches develop groups that specialize in fellowship or Bible study, these types of groups focus on meeting the needs of the group members, but don’t necessarily produce well-rounded disciples. Then, you wonder why groups are unwilling to help in starting new groups or won’t reach out to others. It’s all about them. Why do they need to create any discomfort for themselves? The Health Assessment helps both groups and individuals to identify their strengths and growth areas. More importantly, the Health Plan helps them create appropriate next steps for their growth. Whether the members are ready to crawl, walk or run, growth is determined at their own place and pace. No one expects a baby to get up and start running. No one should expect a mature adult to revert to crawling either. Balancing the five biblical purposes is key. While most groups and group members will be strong in fellowship and discipleship, they will more than likely be weak in worship, ministry and evangelism. Rather than creating a group of comfortable, Bible eggheads, balancing the purposes challenges the group to think beyond itself and to get everyone’s gifts in the game of reaching out and serving others. Groups that grow inward will cease to grow both numerically and spiritually. The mere accumulation of knowledge is actually a waste of everyone’s time if they don’t seek to apply God’s Word in practical ways and to support each other in the transition. The best part of Small Groups with Purpose is that the model Steve Gladen presents is scalable. The system that helps Saddleback effectively care for thousands of groups and tens of thousands of group members will also help a church with a handful of groups and a few dozen members. In my work at Lifetogether and Purpose-Driven coaching hundreds of pastors across the country, I have seen these principles work in churches of all sizes, in all regions of North America, and in practically every Christian denomination. Whether your church has 40 members or 40,000, the principles offered in this book will help your church grow both numerically and spiritually. Purchase your copy of Small Groups with Purpose here. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and Baker Books. 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.” Related Books: Connecting In Communities by Eddie Mosley Leading Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen
By Allen White If your church has 30 percent or better in small groups, then you are among the top five percent of churches in the nation. If small group ministry was a numbers game, then you could rest on your laurels and take it easy. But, how many people are actually connected to your church? For most churches, Easter reveals the true attendance of a church. Easter is the day that everyone who attends your church shows up all at once. On average, there are at least 30 percent more folks on Easter than on a typical Sunday. At Brookwood Church, Simpsonville, SC, where I serve, we average about 4,000 adults on Sunday, but had 7,500 adults on Easter. The bottom line is that once you do the math, there is a lot of work to do. So, this Fall we are challenging our groups to take a six-week “vacation” from their group. The entire group will leave to start new groups, and then return at the end of the study.
Sure, you could try to assimilate prospective group members into existing groups, but that creates a certain amount of weirdness for both sides. New people usually do best in new groups. But, to have new groups, you need new leaders. As Steve Gladen writes in his book, Small Groups with Purpose, “We have discovered tomorrow’s leaders are today’s group members.” Small group members who are cozy in the groups won’t like this idea. But, what if they could help start a new group and not leave their existing group? Here’s how it works: 1. Ask Your Entire Group to Start a New Group. Give your groups the information about the unconnected folks in your church. Tell them about the additional 30 percent who showed up at Easter, but to your knowledge aren’t connected. Ask them to consider taking a break from the group, not for the rest of their lives, but for a six-week series this Fall. If you use a DVD curriculum, it’s very easy to facilitate. They don’t need to be a Bible scholar or to have been a Christian for 50 years. The teacher is on the DVD. They know what it means to be in a group. By stepping out of the group for six weeks, a group of say 10 people could form four or five new groups and potentially impact 40-60 people over the six-week series. 2. Send Them Out in Pairs. As your leaders look around their groups, they will probably have some misgivings about a few of their group members. They would be hesitant to send them out on their own and have them lead a group. Send them out anyway, but send them with someone who is stronger. Jesus sent His disciples out in pairs (Luke 10:1). That’s a pretty good precedent. The other side of this is that as group leaders, we don’t always see the potential of our group members. Some of the most unlikely people make the best small group leaders. Don’t doubt what God can do with a willing heart. 3. Fill Up Four to Eight New Groups. The greatest fear in sending out group members is the fear of failure. Equip your group leaders and members by sharing these opportunities to connect with prospective members: • Use the Circles of Life. This is a great tool developed by Brett Eastman to identify potential group members from the folks that they already know. Ask the group members to consider co-workers, neighbors, acquaintances, relatives and friends, who would enjoy or benefit from the study. They don’t even need to attend your church. Start by brainstorming names, then make this a prayer list. Once they’ve prayed, make this a personal invitation list. • Use the Church’s Website. Make sure that every new group is listed on the website. Many prospective members can locate a group near their house with the mapping feature or zip code look up. The web can also be used at a on-campus connection event. • Ask for a List. Provide your group members with lists of prospective members that live near them. A zip code search of the church database would be a great place to start. This is a bit of cold calling, but don’t make it that. Send out invitations for a small group open house. Everybody likes a party. Then, at the open house invite them to join the group for the six-week series. • Participate in the Small Group Connection. Set a day and time for prospective members to meet new small group leaders and join the groups. Over the years, we have done this in the church lobby or on the church lawn after the service or held mixers on an evening. The important thing is to create an opportunity for prospective members and group leaders to meet face to face in a relaxed setting. In 30 seconds, prospects can get an idea of whether or not they want to spend six weeks with a leader. 4. Make Sure that They All Leave the Group. Our home group in California did a six-week vacation a few years back. Half of the group agreed to go out and start a new group for the six-week series. The other half decided to stay. We liked them, so we let them. Big mistake. Guess who left the group, and guess who stayed? All of the extroverts started new groups for the series. All of the introverts stayed in our group. It was a much quieter group. And, we had problems getting new members to join our group for the six weeks. We asked, “Who are your friends?” Silence. We asked, “Who do you know that would enjoy or benefit from this study?” Silence. Our little group of introverts did the study together, and then was grateful when our more boisterous folks returned. 5. Help Them Scout Prospective Leaders in the New Group. The hope is that the new group will be successful, but if the new leader returns to the existing group, what will happen to the new group? The key is identifying someone to take the group after the six-week study. Who is the group important to? Who attends every week or lets you know when they can’t? Who has leadership potential? This would be a good place to start. Passing around the leadership in the group meeting is also a great test of leadership. While someone may not feel that they are a leader, if they have an opportunity to lead a lesson, it will show the group leader and them their true leadership potential. Ask everyone in the group to lead for one lesson, host the group in their home, and bring refreshments. This will also help the new leader. Midway through the study, offer another study as a next step for the group. Groups that like each other will be eager to continue on together. Groups that don’t like each other should end immediately. 6. Enjoy the Blessing of Introducing Others to Group Life. People who have never experienced community in church, now can have what you enjoy every week. By inviting them to join a brand new group, you are giving them a precious gift. While they could join an existing group, the experience is much like getting married and having in-laws. Interpretation: it’s not always warm and fuzzy. A new study in a new group is a great start for new members. You can breathe new life into your existing group. Over time every group atrophies a bit. Members move away or their schedules change. Then, it takes more effort to add to your group. It’s not impossible. It’s just challenging. With the six-week vacation, you can easily add new members, since you are essentially starting a new group. The new members have six weeks to bond before the established members return. You can discover the potential of your group members to lead. Some of your group members might not return to your group. They may decide to stay with the new group after the six weeks. You can stay connected with them by becoming their coach. You already have a relationship with them, so that just makes sense. While most of us don’t want to see our friends leave, we also don’t want to hold them back from an opportunity where God can use them. Small groups, like churches, are living things. People come and go. Groups serve different purposes for different seasons. Some groups last for decades. Other groups hold on for a couple of years, then part ways. There is no right or wrong. The key is to keep moving in the right direction and to be open to letting God use you to serve others.
By Allen White A small group leader complained to small group expert, Carl George, a while back, “My group members won’t come to the group. They would rather go to the movies with their friends. What should I do?” Carl’s sage advice, “Thank God that they have friends.” If group members are reaching out to people, then your group will continue to grow and share the love of God with others. No meeting is a chance occasion. There are no coincidences in a committed life. Meeting leads to inviting. Listen to what Small Group Leader Shannon Perry learned at our recent retreat: [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51zEkl90xyA&w=480&h=390] Trouble viewing the video? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51zEkl90xyA Inviting new people to a group is more than just adding names to a role or increasing attendance in a Bible study. We’re inviting new people into our lives. Group members aren’t merely students in our class. They are companions in our journey. Since the stakes can be a little high on both sides, here are some things to keep in mind: 1. Will this be the right fit? Not every group is for everybody. As a pastor, people have a certain expectation of what a pastor’s small group will be like. Got that image in your head? Okay, that is not my small group. Last summer we did a study called “Jaded.” Get the picture. So, when I launched my small group, we packed out the big table at Panera Bread. The second week, we packed out half of the table. My group is not “The Pastor’s Bible Study Group” where we can think deep and live shallow. We get real in my group. We avoid the softball questions like “If you were a tree what kind of tree would you be?” My group would simply answer, “Jesus.” If the questions start hitting where the rubber meets the air, then my group makes fun of the questions. It doesn’t matter that I wrote the questions or that I’m sitting right there. In this group, you’re going to get real or get lost. I tend to talk people out of coming to my group at times. Not every group is for every person. Before you encourage someone to attend your group, find out what kind of group they’re looking for. Then, you might invite them to your group, or you might recommend another group. 2. Invite group prospects the right way. Groups are not classes that go on regardless of who shows up. Groups are more like family. As Eddie Mosley shares in his book, Connecting in Communities, “The family usually has an understanding about certain things…This is a courtesy that my mother-in-law taught me. Family members don’t bring someone to lunch without giving her warning first.” We don’t just bring somebody along because they want to come to group. We ask the group how they feel about it. If they resist for the wrong reasons, then we must address their Bad Reasons to Close a Group . But, in doing the good thing of including others, we don’t want to commit the bad thing of disrespecting our group. 3. Who is God directing into your path? As Steve Gladen says, “There are members you choose, members who choose you, and members God chooses.” God is at work around us. The question is whether we are aware of what God is doing. We don’t need to gear up for a big sales pitch about how awesome our group is. We just need to ask God who He wants to bring to our group, and then be willing to receive them. 4. Is your group prepared to receive new members? Introducing new members into a group creates some awkwardness on both sides. It won’t always be awkward, but it might be a little awkward at first. The group must be prepared for a little discomfort. This is one reason why it’s good to warn the group in advance and not have visitors pop in at random every week. If the group is committed to including new members, then the new members may stick. If they don’t, then the group shouldn’t take it personally. Most of us didn’t marry our first blind date. 5. It’s not about you. After that first meeting, it’s good to follow-up with the new member. At this point, a little fear of rejection will kick in. “Did they hate the group? Do they think I’m a terrible leader? Will they call me back?” Okay, now that that bit of neurosis is out of the way, have the person who brought them to the group follow-up with them. If they didn’t like the group, then help them find another group to try. If they liked it, then remind them of when and where the group meets next and of any preparation they need to make. Groups are living things. Group members come and go. But, if group members only go without new members joining, then we all know where that group is headed. Inviting new members not only brings new life to the group, it just might bring eternal life to the new member. Pray about who to invite next, then pay attention to who crosses your path.
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.
A: I gather groups of small group leaders once a month, typically around the middle of the month, for lunch or dinner. We meet for one hour and limit the meetings to five leaders. This gives us time to catch up on what’s going on with your groups, learn about what’s coming next, and encourage each other. If you haven’t attended a lunch this Fall, look for an email in the next few days.
Q: Why are there so many surveys???
A: I have found in the South that most people would rather “bless my heart” than tell me what they think. Now, there are some who are not shy with their opinions. I hear you. But, for many, they are just too polite to tell it to me straight. Surveys are a useful tool to hear from everybody and get the “straight stuff.” Ken Blanchard says, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” By responding to surveys, you are helping to make our small groups ministry even better.
Q: Why is it important to invite new people to the group?
A: I have answered this question in other places on this blog, so I will try not to repeat myself.
1. People need small group connection. While about two-thirds of Brookwood Church is connected to a small group, we’ve still got 30% without a group. If we don’t invite them, where will they go? We’ve also got a world full of lost people who need connection with caring people and with their Savior.
2. Groups tend to shrink over time. I look at my own group. I started with about twelve guys. Half of the group quit immediately. It wasn’t exactly what they were looking for. One moved out of state. One started his own group. One changed jobs and his new schedule conflicted with the group schedule. One didn’t care for the restaurants we chose to meet in. If my group hadn’t continued to invite new people, I would be down to one group member.
3. Groups tend to get way too comfortable. Now, small group is the place to connect with other people at a deeper level and to develop life-giving relationships. But, over time we become too understanding of each other. The group can lose its edge. Instead of speaking the truth in love, we just love. We understand each other. We understand why group members do what they do. But, we’re comfortable. Who wants to make things uncomfortable? Adding a new member or a few tends to shake things up a bit, and that’s not always a bad thing.
4. New members bring new life to the group. New members tend to upset things just enough to keep the group fresh. The last thing we want is for our group to become a cul-de-sac (or the Dead Sea to be spiritual). Every group needs an outlet for ministry. Attracting new members is a big part of the group’s ministry.
Who do you invite? Ask God, and then pay attention to who crosses your path.