Sermons do a lot of things, but sermons don’t make
Here’s the dilemma: the church’s mission is to “go and make
disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20). If sermons don’t make disciples, then how does
the church fulfill its mission? If sermons don’t directly fulfill the church’s
mission, then why is so much emphasis placed on the weekend worship service and
What Do Sermons Do?
I’m a preacher. I have nothing against preaching. I take
exception, however, in depending on preaching to accomplish what it cannot
Sermons serve to inspire, inform, and motivate. People can
come to Christ as a result of responding to a pastor proclaiming the Word of
Truth. Preachers are brokers in hope. They can help people reframe their lives
from a context of frustration and despair to embrace hope and God’s love.
Sermons anointed by the power of the Holy Spirit are dynamic things that can
make an impact. Yet, sermons don’t make disciples.
If discipleship was a uniform process or the mastery of a body of knowledge, then the information delivered in a sermon would certainly add to knowledge acquisition. But, that’s not what discipleship is. Disciples aren’t processed. They’re crafted.
How Do You Make Disciples?
Disciples make disciples. While much of Western Christianity
has depended on the definition of a disciple as a student, then placed the
student in a class and delivered thorough teaching, it has ended up with very
educated, yet disobedient students. Here’s the proof: what they know is not
adequately reflected in their attitudes and actions. I’m not building a case
for perfectionism. But, I am a believer in the principle that what people truly
believe is reflected in what they do. Or, put another way, “faith without works
is dead” (James 2:17).
Now, I realize that some at this point will wonder if I am
advocating some works-based approach to Christianity. This is where I’m going:
if church-goers have no desire for the things of God, then I would question
whether they truly belong to God. As Paul writes to the Philippians, “Therefore,
my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now
much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and
trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to
fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). We don’t work for our
salvation, but we work out our salvation because God is working in us.
If disciples aren’t merely students, then what are they? The
word “disciple” is derived from several different words including follow and
“to rub off on.” The model Jesus gave us was to spend 75 percent of His time
with His disciples and 25 percent with the crowd. How much time is spent on the
sermon? How much time is spent making disciples?
Why did Jesus spend such a disproportionate amount of time
with a small group of people? Jesus knew how we learn. People learn by
imitation, not instruction.
Who has been the most powerful influence in your life? For
most people, they would say their parents. You act more like your parents than
anyone else. After all, you could read a dozen books written by experts in
marriage, yet your default is a marriage that more closely resembles your
parents’ marriage than anything presented by the experts. (Depressing thought,
huh?) Change requires intentional effort, committed support, and better models
Paul challenged his followers to imitate him (1 Corinthians
4:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:9). Imitation requires transparency. Imitation requires
time and attention. Disciples make disciples.
Why is the Sermon so Important Then?
Sermons can start something. A presentation of the Gospel
can help someone start their relationship with Christ and their journey of
discipleship. The sermon can lead a congregation to love their neighbors, to
focus on the majesty of God, and to hold on to hope. But, the result of a
sermon is not another sermon. The result of a sermon is a next step – make a
decision, join a group, lead a mission, serve your neighbor, pray…you get it.
This is why I’m a big believer in alignment series and
groups that help church-goers take their weekends into their weeks. The sermon
can deliver a challenge, and the group can provide the support and
accountability necessary to meet the challenge. The sermon by itself, however,
is forgotten usually within 48 hours. If they can’t remember it, how are they
supposed to do it? Groups help with this.
On any given weekend, pastors have the opportunity to lead a
large portion of their congregations to take a step. The weekend service is the
largest things a church does in any given week, but it’s not the most important
thing they do. After all, sermons don’t make disciples. Disciples make
For most pastors, whether their churches are 100 people,
1,000 people, or 10,000+ people, would view the sheer scale of disciples making
disciples as completely daunting. The key is to start small and multiply. Jesus
invested in 12 disciples which multiplied over 2,000 years into some 2 billion
people. If pastors invested in just eight people, and then those disciples made
disciples within four years the church would have 4,096 disciples making
disciples (8x8x8x8). Without disciples making disciples, pastors have audiences
for their sermons.
Back in college a speaker challenged us to think about 5
sermons that influenced our lives for Christ. To be honest, most of us couldn’t
come up with one – not even the sermon from last Sunday. Then, the speaker
asked us to name 5 people who had influenced us for Christ. Those names
immediately came to mind.
The key to discipleship is not a process or a proclamation. The key to discipleship is a disciple.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Allen White helps Take the Guesswork Out of Groups. We offer books, online courses, coaching groups, and consulting.
In a perfect world, the sole focus of your church beyond the weekend service would be groups. You do not live in that world. But, part of the reason you don’t have more groups is because you are not sending a clear message about groups…to your senior pastor.
Your Church Cares About What Your Pastor Cares About
Churches with a passion for evangelism are led by an evangelist. Churches with in-depth teaching are lead by a teacher. Churches with deep care and compassion are led by a pastor. Your pastor’s passions are expressed in the life of the church. The church cares about what your pastor cares about.
In most churches, the weekend service is the biggest thing that the church does in a week. It’s not necessarily the most important thing the church does, but it is the biggest. The weekend service has a lot of moving parts. For pastors who preach every week, it’s like having a term paper due on a weekly basis. There are production meetings and rehearsals. There are theme planning sessions and set design. And, don’t forget to fill the fog machine. The weekend service is a big deal.
But, why does everything have to be about the weekend? If your weekend service wasn’t strong, then the offering wouldn’t be strong, then you wouldn’t have a job, so don’t go there. This doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario. Your pastor could care about groups, but you need to give your pastor reasons to care about them.
Your Pastor Cares About a Lot of Things
Pastors care about reaching the lost, caring for the flock, making disciples, connecting with the community, raising a budget, wrangling with board members, guiding staff, communicating the message, building buildings, raising up the next generation, and yes, gathering in groups. (If you don’t think so, then, remember who hired you.) Research shows that small groups offer effective solutions to everything your pastor cares about – Outreach, Evangelism, Attendance, Giving, Disciple-making, Leadership Development, Serving – you name it. The Senior Pastor’s Guide to Groups clearly and concisely builds the case for you.
For most pastors, there is a dominant theme that rises to the top: teaching, outreach, evangelism, compassion, service, leadership, care, or something similar. You heard this in point one. Groups will never replace this dominant theme in your pastor’s heart and mind, and that’s okay.
I’ve heard small group pastors/directors complain about not being able to get their senior pastor on board with groups. Here’s the deal – it’s your senior pastor’s boat. You don’t need to worry about getting your pastor on board. So, forget about nagging your way to success. There are ways to raise the value of groups in your church with your pastor’s full participation.
Align Groups with What Your Pastor Cares About
It’s time to get on board your pastor’s boat. What is the main focus of the next sermon series? What is your pastor’s passion? How can groups support where your pastor wants to go?
There is a small group curriculum for practically every sermon series a pastor could think of. If there’s not, then you can create one.
If your pastor is an evangelist, then propose a felt-needs series for members to invite their neighbors. They can share the gospel in a low pressure environment.
If your pastor is a teacher, then give your people more of what they want by creating curriculum based on your pastor’s teaching.
What is your pastor the most passionate about? Linking groups with where your pastor is headed is far more effective than trying to convince your pastor to follow your direction. A church-wide campaign aligned with your pastor’s passion will help you recruit more leaders and launch more groups than you’ve ever had. Your pastor is interested because the teaching goes further. The people are more interested, because you’re giving them more of what they already want.
Cast Vision Through Storytelling
Pastors need fresh stories for their sermons (and, their kids need a break). Start collecting stories from your groups. Ask them what God is doing in their groups. Ask them about challenges that group members have overcome through the support of the group. Ask them about their own reluctance to lead initially and how God has blessed them. These stories can come from surveys, interviews, or conversations. Ask your leaders and group members for stories.
Capture these stories either in print or on video or both. As you build your library of stories, find out where your pastor is headed with the next sermon or series. Some pastors plan a year in advance. Other pastors aren’t sure what they’re preaching this coming Sunday. Either way, your story library will be a huge asset to your pastor. And, since it’s a small group story, the story will cast vision for groups. Every pastor needs stories. Become your pastor’s go-to story source.
No one in your church should care more about small groups than you. That’s why you do what you do. You have to manage your passion for groups or else it can spill over into anger or resentment. Then, passion becomes self-defeating.
If it feels like groups are on the backburner, it’s your job to move groups to the front burner. Think of every possible angle where you can launch groups. Every event should launch groups. Every sermon series could start groups. Every holiday offers an excuse for groups – Mother’s Day for women’s groups, Father’s Day for men’s groups, Valentine’s Day for couples groups, Columbus Day for singles groups (They’re searching!).
God is using your pastor to lead your church. How can you support the direction your pastor is heading with groups? If you can’t figure out how to connect where your pastor is headed with groups, then give me a call. Here’s my cell: Nine-49-235-7428.
Every small group pastor wants healthy leaders and healthy groups. Sometimes that feels like an unattainable goal.
How do you connect with every leader and every group on a regular basis when you always seem to be putting out fires? Let’s face it – you spend a good deal of time addressing the latest crisis which robs time away from your strategic planning. It’s hard to work in it and on it at the same time.
While you do your best to keep up with your leaders, the reality is there is only so much of you. There are only so many hours in the day. You have a limited amount of time, energy and attention. If you’re like me, small groups are not your only responsibility. You tend to resort to email blasts and training meetings that are half full to invest in your leaders, but you’re always left wondering how you could help your leaders more?
A small group leadership team with coaches to care for every leader would be ideal. But, it’s difficult to build a coaching team when the demand rests in finding a group for the person who signed up last Sunday. When there’s not a group to plug them into, the prospective member has to wait until you can recruit a new leader and start a group. When do you get to think about a coaching structure?
But, let’s say you get a reprieve from the tyranny of the urgent to form a coaching structure. How would you build it? Who would you recruit to coach? What would they do? Those three questions delay most small group pastors from even starting.
Like you, I was very frustrated with coaching group leaders. I have made about every mistake that can be made with coaching, but in the process I’ve figured out some things that have helped many churches like yours.
Let me guide you through a proven way to build your coaching structure that is customizable to your church. I understand that your church is different from other churches. There is a way to have both what works in coaching leaders and what will work for you.
You don’t have to go through the heartbreaks of watching excited new leaders become discouraged to the point of not even starting their new group. You can avoid the aftermath of poorly supervised leaders taking their group away from the vision of your church. The lack of a coaching structure means the problems and issues of your small group ministry is solely your burden to bear.
But, if you took the same energy it takes to recruit leaders and place people into groups and invested yourself in building a coaching structure, your groups would get further faster than you could imagine. More of your new leaders would actually start groups because someone was walking alongside them and offering encouragement. All of your group leaders would be healthier, which in turn will create healthier groups. And, your burden would be lightened. You could actually have the margin you need to plan for the future of your ministry.
In the Coaching Exponential Groups Online Course, I will guide you around the pitfalls of small groups ministry and help you build a coaching structure, define the coaching role, recruit the right people, equip coaches to serve leaders, and disciple your people through groups. In about an hour a week for six weeks, you can follow a step by step process to get the help you need to effectively lead your groups.
Give the course a try. If it doesn’t work for you, then I will give you a full refund in the first 30 days. I will assume all of the risk, because I believe these strategies will help you significantly.
But, don’t just take my word for it, hear what others have to say about the course.
Let me help you make every group a healthy group.
By Allen White
By now most small group pastors and directors understand coaches are essential to sustain and support small group leaders. While everyone will agree to the necessity of coaches, most don’t know what to do with coaches, and unfortunately, most coaches don’t know what to do period. Beautiful org charts in a lot of churches actually net zero results. Here are some tips to moving your coaches in the right direction:
1. Coaches Aren’t Accountants.
The problem with most accountability in Christian circles is that it becomes too much like accounting. Unlike Santa Claus, coaches do not relish keeping a naughty or nice list. What’s more, group leaders don’t appreciate being supervised by a supervisor. This doesn’t mean we throw caution to the wind, but we also don’t put a cruel task master over small group leaders. After all, “love keeps no record of wrongs,” right? (1 Corinthians 13:5). Read more on accountability that works here.
2. Coaches Aren’t Middle Managers, Bureaucrats or Spies.
Years ago, Carol, one of my coaches, complained to me, “I feel like I’m your spy.” At that point, I was still recruiting and training all of the group leaders myself. Carol and the other coaches were sent out to visit the groups and report back what they saw. No wonder she felt that way.
In recruiting coaches, we work hard to select mature, capable people to serve with us. Then, often because we don’t have the coaching role figured out ourselves, we tend to micromanage them as if they are neither mature nor capable. I didn’t keep many coaches that way.
The key is to elevate the role of coaching. When I chose coaches the next time around, I invited capable, mature people to join me in a journey. We met every week for dinner and to talk about the direction of our small groups. I committed to never make a decision about our small groups outside of that meeting. We led together.
These folks aren’t underachievers who need our constant motivation. These aren’t people who are prone to wander and need a steady reminder of direction. If they are, then they shouldn’t be coaching groups. If they’re not, then they deserve more respect than a place in our little bureaucracy.
3. The Role of the Coach is to Refocus the Player.
My friend and mentor, Carl George has drilled this phrase into my psyche. When you think about a coach in sports, he stands at the sidelines and guides his players. If the last play went terribly wrong, his job is to refocus the players on the next play. They can’t replay the last play on the field. But, if a bad play keeps replaying in the players’ minds, then the next play will also suffer.
Small group leaders have busy lives and are pulled in many different directions. On a particularly hectic day or difficult season, it’s easy for leaders to become discouraged and wonder why they ever got into this business in the first place. The relationship with the coach is key to maintaining momentum in groups. The coach is not making sure the job gets done. The coach is making sure the player is okay.
4. Give Your Leaders the Space to See What God is Doing
The most valuable function of a coach is giving a small group leader an opportunity to reflect on what God is doing in his or her group. Most would admit to the difficulty of working “in” something and “on” something at the same time. It’s nearly impossible. Often group leaders are working so hard in the group, they don’t see the big picture of what God is doing.
By setting aside an hour or so once every quarter, a coach can give group leaders the space they need to see what God is doing and to identify what is next. This is as simple as the coach asking the leaders to list the names of their group members, then asking them to talk about what God is doing in each person’s life. As the leaders discuss their members, the logical next steps will begin to surface for the leader.
Bob – Hasn’t been around for a while. I need to give him a call.
Joe – Struggling at his job. I need to pray for him and give him some encouragement outside of the group.
Steve – Lost his job. I need to check-in with him and see if there’s any way the group can help.
Tony – Making poor choices. I need to pray for him and for the right timing to have a tough conversation.
Brett – Shows strong leadership potential. I need to give him more responsibilities in the group and eventually invite him to co-lead with me.
You get the idea. The coach must approach this conversation as a learner, not as an instructor. It would be easy to quickly diagnose each member and offer next steps, but the next steps determined by the group leader will be the next steps that are actually executed.
To make this work, start with a few assumptions. Assumption #1: Group leaders have made themselves available to God, and God is using them in their group. If a group leader is going through a hard time, he may be wondering if God is doing anything at all. He needs encouragement. But, some group leaders so naturally use their gifts, they might not even realize how gifted they are. They also need a coach’s insight.
Assumption #2: Who you are as a coach is more significant than what you could every say to a group leader. Your relationship with your group leaders is the greatest gift you can offer them. When relationship comes first, tasks get accomplished. Without relationship, leaders easily burn out.
5. Small Group Pastors: Get Out of Your Coach’s Way
How many Team Owners or General Managers have made their coaches’ lives miserable? Small Group Pastors and Directors, like their coaches, should approach their roles as learners, not drill sergeants. God wants to use your coaches. Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle to effective coaching is often a well-meaning Small Groups Pastor.
While you cannot give away the responsibility for the ministry, empowered coaches are effective coaches. Disempowered coaches become burned out middle managers. Your expectation of your coaches should be clear, reasonable and accountable. But, again, don’t approach accountability as an accountant. Give your coaches the benefit of the doubt: “How are your groups doing?” not “Have you followed up on your groups lately?” If your coaching system is in disarray, then you’re probably in the way.
By Allen White
Nothing will accelerate your group launch faster than the right topic. When you choose a theme for an alignment series that is a common felt need in your congregation and your community, people will run to join groups. But, the reverse can also be true. Choosing the wrong topic will drive them away.
1. More “Mature” Topics Will Limit Your Launch
Several years ago, I was working with a church that started every year with a 21 day fast. They wanted to design a curriculum to support the fast. While I would never attempt to talk a church out of such a significant initiative, I did caution them that forming new groups might be a little challenging. On the bright side, the refreshments would be very easy. They started a handful of new groups for their members and had a great experience with their fast. But, they were far from involving the entire congregation.
Some topics are for more mature believers rather than for people in the community who may have never darkened the door of your church. Anything to do with money: budgeting, giving, generosity, capital campaigns, and so on are challenging to form groups around. While many people need help managing their finances, too many evangelists desiring $65 million jets have created a poor association between the church and money for most of the world. Don’t go there.
Other topics like evangelism, spiritual disciplines, and spiritual gifts are great for the congregation, but probably won’t draw much interest from the community. There are ways to promote these topics more indirectly.
Instead of creating an alignment series around a capital campaign, why not create a series around what the church is raising money for? If the church is taking new initiatives to help the poor or become a resource in the community, then these are the topics to promote. Maybe the church is investing in the next generation. People are very concerned about the world their children will grow up in. They can get behind the vision of the church to reach the community, and then they might even give.
Instead of creating curriculum to teach your people evangelism, why not produce a series that is evangelistic? Talk about the needs in the community. You could even include a presentation of the Gospel. You could do evangelism with the curriculum rather than teaching how to do evangelism. A series like All In focuses on the story of Jesus and offers the Gospel message.
There are ways to introduce mature topics to a broader group. But, the largest group launches come from topics that touch a nerve.
2. Felt Need Topics Will Attract People Who Need Help
When you talk to your neighbors and others in your community, what are they concerned about? Many people struggle in their relationships, their marriages, and their parenting. These are great felt need topics which can reach a broad audience.
People also deal with anxiety, worry, and stress. Some feel like giving up or are lost in even successful careers. What will bring them meaning and hope? Anthony Bourdain, the celebrity chef who recently committed suicide once asked, “What do you do after your dreams have come true?” Even those who seem to have it all often feel a deep void. How can your series help them?
Of course, the granddaddy of all church-wide campaigns is The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. Other series which have drawn in the community include Kerry Shooks’ One Month to Live, Live Like Your Dying, and Half Time by Bob Buford. I’ve worked with churches to produce series that deal with leaving a legacy, common fears, hope, or ambition that have helped some churches more than double their current numbers of groups. A couple of churches now have twice as many people in groups than they have in weekend attendance.
3. What is Your Senior Pastor Passionate About?
The best topic you can choose for a successful curriculum and group launch is the idea that your pastor is the most passionate about. Does he have a life message or dominate them he speaks about often? Does she have a clear direction on what the Fall series should be? The best topic is not necessarily the hottest topic to the church, but the hottest topic for your pastor.
Once you have that direction, you don’t have to start with a blank piece of paper. Most pastors have files full of sermons they’ve preached over the course of their ministries. There is no shortage of content. Why not research the pastor’s hot topic in past sermon files? You’ll be surprised what you come up with.
And, remember, you’re not creating the next Purpose-Driven Life! Your study may not make the bestseller list, but your pastor’s teaching on your video-based curriculum will be very popular with your congregation. What’s even better is that when your felt need topic draws in the friends, neighbors, and co-workers of your members into groups, they will be introduced to your pastor through the video curriculum. When these new folks are invited to church, they will feel like they already know your pastor from the videos!
Where are you headed this Fall? If you’re creating your own curriculum, I hope you’ve already started. If not, there are semi-custom offerings from allinsmallgroups.com and other sources that have scripts and study guides already written. The hard work is taken care of. Your pastor just needs to personalize the scripts and shoot the video. If push comes to shove, curriculum you purchase can also help you form new groups as long as your pastor is passionate about it.
The topic will make or break your next alignment. Where are you headed?