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
A major factor in a successful group launch is the leadership of the senior pastor. As the leader of the congregation, when the senior pastor points the direction, the members will follow. In the two churches I served, we reached over 125 percent of our average adult attendance with our senior pastor leading the way at New Life in Califonia. In the other church, Brookwood Church in South Carolina, we launched 400 new groups with the pastor’s leadership (We had 30 percent of 5,000 people in groups to start). I have not personally recruited a group leader since 2004. But, how do you get your senior pastor more interested in groups?
Align Groups with Where Your Pastor is Going
Many small group pastors are frustrated with their senior pastors. Maybe you are one of them. I’ve heard complaints like, “I just can’t get my pastor on board with groups.” After serving as an Associate Pastor for most of my 28 years in ministry, let me give you a little insight here – It’s your pastor’s boat. That’s the boat you need to get on. Now, where is that boat headed?
What is your senior pastor talking about? Where is your pastor’s heart? Whether it’s outreach and evangelism, a capital campaign, or something else, when you align groups with where your pastor is going, you will make far more progress than complaining about your pastor not going where you want him/her to go.
After being stuck at 30 percent at New Life after seven years of handpicking leaders, I finally got a clue and listened to where my pastor was headed. Back in 2004, he was excited about The Passion of the Christ. He had already planned a sermon series, because he knew people would have spiritual questions after they watched the movie. When I asked him about launching groups along with The Passion series, he gave an enthusiastic “Yes!” Your best ideas are your pastor’s ideas. Hitch your wagon to that horse.
Create Video-based Curriculum with Your Pastor’s Teaching
Your congregation wants to hear your pastor’s teaching more than any other teacher, even nationally known pastors. When you offer a study based on your pastor’s teaching, your people will become very enthusiastic about it. But, this gets even better.
Not only will your pastor show interest in seeing his weekend teaching go into the week through a small group curriculum, once your pastor has created the videos, he/she will become very interested in recruiting new group leaders and starting new groups.
This was the case at Bay Hope Church in Florida. After a day of shooting video for the church’s upcoming alignment series, the next morning the pastor pulled us into his office. “Now that we’ve shot this video and are creating curriculum, how are we going to get leaders for the groups? How are we going to get people into groups?”
Their Discipleship Pastor came to me later in the day and said, “I’ve been trying to get my pastor interested in groups for two years, and you just did it!” It was practically an accusation.
I just smiled and said, “Well, I’m Allen White.” No, I did not. Once their pastor had made an investment in developing curriculum, he was very interested in seeing people use it. When we handed him talking points each week, he recruited leaders like never before. After three similar campaigns in a single ministry year, the church had over 2,000 people in groups and yet only 1,800 people in their weekend services.
Six 10 minute videos for a six week series will do a lot to motivate both your pastor and your congregation into forming groups. You can do this with a professional crew, a wedding videographer, or an iPhone. Your pastor’s teaching is the draw.
Find Small Group Answers to Your Pastor’s Concerns
What keeps your pastor up at night? What does he/she worry about? A lot of pastors are concerned over reaching their communities, fundraising and general giving, getting people connected, helping them grow in their faith, serving in the community among other things.
How can groups help your pastor reach these objectives? Research shows that people in groups are better connected, grow more, serve more, give more, and reach more than people who are not in groups.* Who wouldn’t want that for their church?
What are your pastor’s greatest concerns? How can groups serve to address those issues?
President Ronald Reagan had a quote displayed on his desk that read, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” I think this is a good motto for any pastor who works for a senior pastor. How can you help your senior pastor win? And, of course, if your pastor wins, then you also win.
*Transformational Groups by Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger (B&H, 2014) and Sharing the Journey by Robert Wuthnow (The Free Press, 1994).
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.
By Allen White
After examining Jesus’ methods of developing disciples in the Gospels, the speaker on a recent podcast* made this statement– “Connect, Grow, Serve does not compare to how Jesus made disciples.” I would have to agree.
When you examine how Jesus made disciples, he spent about 75% of his time with the disciples. Only about 25% of this time was spent with large crowds. Disciplemaking is time consuming. Disciplemaking is personal. In large congregations, disciplemaking seems impossible. Conventional wisdom dictates that we put people through a process and call that discipleship. But, we’re not making sausage here.
I have tremendous gratitude for those who gave us the baseball diamond, the five G’s, and growth track among other strategies. They gave us a start and connected some of the dots about making disciples. Unfortunately, they didn’t go far enough.
For instance if you take a membership class and sign the membership card, you become a member. But if you take a class on personal growth, spiritual disciplines, or giving, and sign the card, you usually end up with a signed card, but not a disciple.
These are processes. These are assembly lines. But we’re not manufacturing widgets. People are unique. People require different amounts of things at different times in order to produce growth. A process is inadequate to achieve that goal. As Marcus Buckingham once said, “The problem with people is that they’re just never done.”
We frequently quote Acts 2:42-47 as the standard for disciple-making.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV)
This is where the church was at its inception. Now that we’ve had 2,000 years to work on this, why does it seem we are making less progress? We have the same Gospel. We have the same Holy Spirit. Yet, the modern church is experiencing vastly different results. Something is wrong.
What we miss is the part about being devoted. The first century church was devoted. What are people devoted to? What are believers devoted to? What gets priority in their lives? Is it family, sports teams, political affiliation, or entertainment? I would say that many people are more devoted to their cell phones than anything else (as I dictate this post on my cell phone). But, how are we dedicated to the things of God? Is this once per week, twice per week, Christmas and Easter, when we think about it? What kind of devotion are we asking of the people we lead when it comes to their relationship with God? What is God asking?
So what’s the answer? Do we grow our churches smaller and put less effort into the weekend service? Maybe. Do we switch to house churches and forsake the big box church all together? I’m not sure. How do we change a Connect, Grow, Serve mentality of assimilation and “discipleship” into something that actually transforms lives. (If you’ve got a rocking Connect, Grow, Serve that’s making an impact, please let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org).
I believe there is a place for large groups, small groups, and individual disciplines. I also see how current systems of discipleship and even small groups are failing to produce lives that reflect Christ. I understand that people are busy and distracted. I understand that every local church requires a certain amount of time, talent, and treasure to operate. But, what are we producing? What is the return on investment? If you surveyed your church members, do their attitudes and actions reflect Jesus? Are they growing to become like Christ or are they merely trying to cope?
I would like to invite you on a journey to find some answers to these questions. Will you join me? The Disiciple Making R&D Pilot begins on Wednesday, May 9 at 2pm Eastern. Click here for more information.
*Pete Scazzero on the 5 Leadership Questions Podcast, Episode 238, March 27, 2018.
By Allen White
Image by Marina Strizhak.
How easily can you multiply your ministry? Let’s say tomorrow you are given the opportunity to duplicate your church in another location. How quickly could you assemble an exact replica of the church you currently serve? What leaders would you need? What budget? What buildings? Could you turn on a dime, or what kind of lead time would you need?
Let’s go the other way. Let’s say your church has hit a low point (or is starting from scratch). You have no building, no money, and no staff. How would you do church? How would you reach your community?
Multiplication is key to mission. The mission, we know well, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV). Did you read it, or did you “yada, yada, yada” it? Maybe read it again.
Simply put, we have Jesus’ authority and presence to carry out his mission. What else do we need? Motivation, yes. Obedience, for sure. Multiplication, absolutely – generationally and ethnically. What’s holding us back? The only thing slowing many of us down is the lack of focus on multiplication. We’ve become skilled at distributing fish. Now’s the time to raise up fishermen.
Throughout the seeker movement, we gave people a pass on discipleship. We invited them to sit back, relax, and get comfortable. For the boomer generation who is chief interest was self-interest, this formula actually worked. (Other generations also have similar interests). But then we ran into a dilemma: when we needed people to help, we discovered that everyone had taken us up on the offer to be comfortable. No one wanted to help.
Now much has been said in lowering the bar on small group leadership. Some people despise that thought. But the heart of lowering the bar comes from I thought by Neil Cole where he said we need to lower the bar on what it means to be a leader and raise the bar on what it means to be a disciple. We are all called to go and make disciples.
By allowing members to gather a group of friends and facilitate a discussion with an easy-to-use video-based curriculum (initially), we’re not creating a multiplicity of shallow rooted people. We are helping our people become obedient to the Great Commission. Everyone is called to make disciples. No one is exempt. And yet we have created such a convoluted, unclear method of discipleship, which I hesitate to even call a method, because there’s no systemization to it. We will take up this issue in another post over the next month.
Forming groups is not the only way to align the purposes of our members with the purposes of Jesus’ mission. It’s a start. Often people need a trial run before they can commit to a longer-term role.
The nature of multiplication is that every member should be making disciples of others. Every disciple should make disciples who in turn make disciples. We must multiply disciples.
In the church we are more comfortable with managers than leaders. Managers take direction and implement. They make sure a greeter is posted at every door and a teacher is present in every class. Managers follow the rules and do what they’re told. Leaders show the way.
Often we are threatened by the idea of allowing others to lead, because their leadership proves to be better than ours. But when you think about it, this is actually a good thing. After all, all of us are smarter than anyone of us.
As pastors, our role is to nurture and bring out the best in people. The challenge is that we must grow our own leadership and develop trust to the point where we can allow our people to lead without becoming “helicopter pastors.”
A leader is not someone who merely follows instructions, although they should abide by the vision and mission of the church. A leader is someone who takes initiative. You have plenty of leaders in your church. Some of them you have labeled as problems. The reason they seem to work against you is that you haven’t delegated something to them to help them work for you.
You will never be able to hire enough staff to fulfill all of the needs of your church and community, nor should you. But in your congregation you have a wealth of leadership potential that must be tapped. As you develop leaders, they will multiply the efforts of your church and help you to accomplish far more.
The easiest way to identify leaders in your church is by hosting a leadership seminar. You can lead that seminar. John Maxwell could lead the seminar via video. You could host something like the Chick-fil-A Leadercast. You can bring in a speaker. But as soon as you announce a leadership seminar, your leaders will come out of the woodwork.
Multiply your staff
The ability to hire staff often comes with the relief of no longer depending on volunteer help. When the job is tied to a paycheck, we can bring in a more qualified and more reliable person, right? No one has ever had to terminate staff before.
Over-staffing a church creates two problems. First, the hire eliminates the need for members of the church to exercise their gifts and abilities. As one pastor told me, “Our motto is like Greyhound, ‘Leave the driving to us.’” Secondly, and I’ll tread lightly here, the accumulation of staff often changes the role of pastor to managing rather than leading. You must manage their time, their benefits, their progress, and their ROI. Or, I suppose you could ignore and assume. My point is that staff hires don’t necessarily bring about the relief a pastor needs, unless they are able to multiply themselves.
The future requires staff members to multiply themselves. Every staff member – pastor, assistant, receptionist, custodian – everyone should multiply their lives and ministry. In fact, the true measure of a staff member’s worth should not be how many tasks they can perform, but how many people they can develop. Merely hiring more staff will not help your church fulfill the mission and reach your community effectively.
But, if staff members get other people to do their work, what do they do? You can go one of two ways here. Either you no longer need the staff member, or the staff can delegate responsibilities and authority to others thus giving the opportunity for the staff to explore and develop new things. As staff members work themselves out of their jobs, then direct them toward fulfilling Jesus’ mission by starting another church and doing the same there.
Maybe you are a staff member, or maybe you are the senior pastor, either way, multiplication is not just the church’s future, it’s your future. How do you grow and expand your leadership? How do you prepare for what’s next? Start by working yourself out of a job.
The easiest place to start is by making a list of all of the things you don’t like to do. Those tasks are easy to delegate. You’ll be amazed to find people who will delight in those duties. Not only can you pour yourself into what you’re best at, but you also give others an opportunity to get their gifts in the game. Don’t hoard your worst tasks.
Eventually, you will reach a place, as the ministry grows, where you will have two choose between things you love. Develop apprentices in these areas. Start with asking them to observe. Then, give them responsibilities that you will supervise. Then, give them the authority they need to fulfill their mission. While you must always check in with them, you shouldn’t micromanage them. John Maxwell said years ago, “Find someone who can do something 30 percent as well as you and let them do it.” The reality is they can probably do it 60 percent as well. The motivation is to engage people in meaningful ministry so Jesus’ mission will be accomplished, and they will find significance along the way.
Ministry will always have limitations – not enough money, time, talent, or buildings. If your ministry is flush in these things, then you are not risking enough.
If you disappeared, how would the ministry continue? Who are you developing to duplicate your efforts and eventually take over? Invest yourself in capable people who can multiply what you do. Stop fulfilling tasks and bending over backward for “consumers.” Leaders are your legacy.
Let me know what you think in the comments below. Feel free to disagree with me.
Allen White helps Take the Guesswork Out of Groups. We offer books, online courses, coaching groups, and consulting.