By Allen White In my travels I’ve learned to automate certain things. By automate, I mean repeating the same patterns, not in an OCD fashion, but just so I don’t have to think about things over and over. For instance, I always park on the same level of the same parking garage. When I arrive home after several days on the road, I don’t have to think about where I parked. I parked in the same place I always park. I do the same with the rental car companies. For years, I’ve used Avis. Why Avis? Someone way back when booked a couple of cars with Avis for me, so I just stuck with it for the same reasons as above. I never have to think about which rental car company I have. I’ve also learned with Avis to use “Preferred” so I can skip the counter, go directly to the garage, see my name up in lights, find my car and get out of dodge. No lines. No conversations. I’m on my way. The other day I received a new card from Avis in the mail. I had qualified for “Avis First.” I had no idea what Avis First even was. While airlines often change on trips, Avis is a constant. It’s automated. Now, for my “loyalty,” I received a new status. This qualifies me for free upgrades, but I’m guessing not free drinks, since they are a rental car company…and I don’t drink. My next step with Avis First was activating my new status online. I went to the website, typed in my information, and received the following message:
“We’re sorry. You may not qualify for Avis First. Please contact customer service, blah, blah, blah.”
I felt almost special. Here this surprise came out of the blue only for me to discover this might have been a fluke. I would have happily stayed “Preferred.” I didn’t need to be “First.” But, Avis led me on. Avis promised me something, then quickly took it back. Then, I began to wonder how I’ve ever done that to other people myself. How many times have I asked people to sign up for something, then not followed up with them? Did they feel “almost special”? The pastor invited them to host a group or teach a class or lead in some way. They said, “Yes,” then they never heard from anybody. How many times on a whim had I tossed out an offer that I wasn’t prepared to follow through on? Now, from the size of the churches I’ve worked with, I could probably make some excuse about the sheer numbers of responses. But, to the person who took me up on the invitation, the only response they were thinking about was theirs. If I gave them a bad experience, how likely would they be to stick their necks out again? An invitation without a next step in place is a disaster. If you invite someone to lead a small group, what’s the next step? Often I’ve offered the next step immediately after a weekend service rather than asking them to come back during the week. If people are open to joining a group, do we make them wait for us to process a card or send them to a website? What if the card gets lost or if I get lazy, do they feel “almost special”? What did it take for them to say “yes,” and will I ever get that “yes” from them again? A good idea without a next step is a bad idea. So is a good idea with two or three or five next steps. What does this look like?
Step 1: If you’d like to join us, please fill out a card. Step 2: If you’re patient, we will reply to your card at some point after we’ve entered it into the database and figured out what we’re going to do for you. Step 3: Now that you’ve patiently waited, we are going to invite you to a meeting to come back to, so we can give you more information about what you’re interested in. Step 4: Thanks for coming to the meeting, if you’re really serious about this, we’d like you to join us for training so you’ll be qualified to do what you want to do. We’ll send you some information on when the next training is coming up. Step 5: Thanks for joining us for training. You are now qualified, provided that your a member of the church, complete an application, and set up a time to be interviewed. Step 6: Thanks for submitting your application, we will contact you about a time for your interview. Step 7: Welcome to your interview. Let’s take some time to get to know each other and see where you can serve in our church (or can’t).
None of these steps are bad, but every additional step increases your margin for error. Either someone on your team will drop the ball by not following up with the person, not getting an email on time, or is just too busy to pick up the phone, or the person who was interested lacks the gift of perseverance and gave up somewhere around Step 3. The next step should be both clear, accessible and somewhat automated. If you want to gather some friends and do the small group study, give us 10 minutes after the service, and we’ll give you enough to be dangerous and an experienced leader to help you. No cards. No waiting. No endless communication loop. Briefing, boom, you’re good to go. Avis finally got their act together. After I emailed customer service, I received a reply the following day saying I was indeed special and qualified for Avis First. Granted, I wanted to feel special sooner via their website, but now I am special nonetheless. In a couple of hours, I will pick up my first special car with Avis First. If “special” means Crown Victoria, I’m not going to feel so special…unless it’s equipped with lights and siren.
By Allen White Last week I had the privilege of sharing a few thoughts with Jay Daniell, host of GroupTalk for the Small Group Network. We talked about recruiting new small group leaders. I had the chance of sharing about five different ways and possibly at the same time. You can listen HERE. Here are my notes from the call: What is a group leader?
An “Official” Group Leader representing the church
A Group Host for one series
Someone who gathers their friends for a study – 700 new launched at HPC this month.
Will they have the title of “leader”?
Will their names be on the church website?
Will they participate in a connection event?
Who should you recruit?
Influencers, existing group members, anyone willing.
The type of group will determine the starting point re: qualifications.
Official group – church member, training, interview.
Host home – member or not, briefing, interview/application.
“Go and Grow” – breathing and briefing
What should you recruit them to?
DVD-based curriculum – easy to use.
Just-in-time training – on the DVD, Youtube, blog.
Trial Run – 6 weeks – Are they actually good at gathering and leading?
A job description and a rigorous process don’t guarantee “problem free” groups. According to Mark Howell, there is no “problem free.”
How should you recruit them?
Small Group Pastor/Director – You shouldn’t.
Leverage your senior pastor and the pulpit.
Align the weekend service and the group study, if you can. If not, leverage the senior pastor and the pulpit anyway for a non-aligned DVD-based series.
What if my senior pastor isn’t interested?
Get your senior pastor interested.
Create your own curriculum.
Give your pastor great stories from small groups.
Begin to think: “How can we launch small groups on that?” – Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparents Day, Columbus Day (singles)… Church events, church initiatives, major strategic moves in coming year.
Intersect groups with your pastor’s interests.
If your pastor wants to engage men, the answer is groups.
If your pastor wants to improve stewardship, answer = groups.
If your pastor wants to build a building…
If your pastor wants to disciple new believers…
Wherever God is leading your senior pastor to go, head right into that direction and become a broken record.
By Allen White People are isolated for a variety of reasons. Sometimes poor health or a disability limits their participation. Rotating shifts or even certain occupations can work against group participation. Connecting isolated folks takes some creativity, but can lead to some great results. Some barriers are easy to remove. If a single mom can’t afford to pay for childcare, then figure out a way to cover the costs of childcare for them. In the past, I have given group leaders gift cards to the church bookstore to either purchase childcare vouchers for on-campus childcare or study guides based on the leader’s good judgment of the situation. While the church may not offer free childcare to every group, single moms are really our modern day widows and orphans (James 1:27). If your church lacks the means, then enlist volunteers to provide childcare while these moms meet. Health problems can greatly limit small group participation. With the aging of our population and the rise of autism and other disorders, this segment of the church body is growing every day. Our son was born with some special needs. When he was little, we would feed him and put him to bed before the group started. The baby monitor was nearby, so we were always close at hand during the group meeting. While we couldn’t allow other group members to host the group in their home, this was the best solution for us to be involved. If folks can’t get to the group, then bring the group to them. You might need to send someone early to help get their house ready. But, the extra effort to include them will mean a great deal. Some jobs make small group participation difficult. If a business or agency runs on rotating shifts and varying days off, it’s impossible to commit to a specific day of the week for group. At New Life in California, two couples had this exact situation. They started a group with just the four of them. One week they’d meet on Tuesday. The next week they’d meet on Friday. Since there were only two rotating schedules to coordinate and fewer people involved, they could make the changes they needed to without inconveniencing others or missing meetings. A few occupations make group life difficult. Recently a group of police officers presented the idea of starting a group specifically for first responders. One dilemma they faced was rotating shifts, so they chose two nights of the week for the group to meet. While members only went to group once per week, their shift schedules dictated which night they could go. Police officers found some interesting reception in other groups. One couple, after trying several groups finally gave up. In the first group, someone wanted them to fix a ticket. In another group, someone wanted them to intervene for their child who had a brush with the law. These officers needed a group that would give them a level playing field, so they decided to form a group of just first responders. They don’t meet to talk shop, but they have a common understanding of life. No one is asking to get a ticket fixed. There are many other groups of isolated folks out there. A church in Hilmar, California holds a men’s group at 4:00 am for dairy workers. They get a Bible study before they milk the cows. I had one leader start a group on a commuter train. Rather than reading the paper on the way to work, they gathered every Tuesday morning to study God’s Word. Once they started, word spread and they filled an entire section of the train. Folks who work swing shift may like a group at midnight when they get off work. Others working the graveyard shift might prefer a group at 7:00 am. Isolated, Independent and Introverted folks don’t fit nicely into typical small groups. Rather than expecting them to get with the program and join a predetermined group, why not give them permission to create biblical community on their own terms? You will be surprised at the ideas that surface. Read More About Connecting the Last 30 Percent: Enlisting the Independents Engaging the Introverts
Elijah called down fire from Heaven (1 Kings 18), and then Elijah wanted to die. Moses worked very long, hard days mediating the disputes of God’s people (Exodus 18), and then Moses got some feedback from his father-in-law, Jethro: “What you are doing is not good” (Exodus 18:17).
Moses insisted that he was the only one who could serve the people and that the people liked coming to him (Exodus 18:15). Basically, Moses was co-dependent on the people of God. It made him feel good. But, one detail from this account shows why it wasn’t good: Moses’ wife, Zipporah and his sons were living with Jethro. Moses’ busyness for God had separated him from his family. This was not good.
Elijah did exactly what God had directed him to do. With God’s power and direction, Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal. The result was not a big celebration. The outcome was a manhunt, and Elijah was that man. Jezebel wanted his head (1 Kings 19:2). You would think that doing God’s work would be rewarded in better ways. Elijah survived for another day, but he was exhausted, depressed and ready to cash it in. You can avoid burnout in ministry, but you need to start before the fuse has burned to the end.
1. Pass around the Leadership. As the small group leader, you can give away the leadership on practically every aspect of your group: leading discussions, opening your home, bringing refreshments, taking prayer requests, following up on new members and absentees, planning social events, pursuing outreach opportunities, recruiting new members – and almost everything else can be given to a member of your group. The only thing that a leader can’t give away is the responsibility for the group. It’s up to you to make sure that things get done, but not to do everything yourself. It might be easier to do it yourself. You might like doing it yourself. But, okay, Moses, don’t go there.
2. Balance the other parts of your life. What else are you doing right now? Most of us need to work at a job and/or at home. We raise our kids. Some of us homeschool our kids. Then, there are kids’ sports – boy, that can quickly take over your life.
Beyond activity, you need to consider what changes have taken place? What is new this year: a job, a home, a baby, reduced income, Cub Scouts, a major health issue? We can only tolerate so much change at a time. Fortunately, God made time so that everything wouldn’t have to happen all at once. Many things you have absolutely no control over. But, if you are feeling the stress of change, then opt out of optional changes for now. That doesn’t mean putting off taking that class or losing weight or buying a new car forever, but put it off for now. Maybe wait a year.
3. A co-leader is a cure. Who really cares about your group? Who’s there every week and calls when they can’t make it? Who has shown the ability to lead? A co-leader can bring some welcomed relief when life gets to be too much. Everyone needs to take a break once in a while. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you quit attending your group, but maybe you go through a season when you let your co-leader take the lead. The big key here is communication. Make sure that you are on the same page with the direction and focus of the group. That’s not to say that your way is the only way, but people joined your group for a certain reason. If your group’s purpose radically changes, then your group might not tolerate it. Shared leadership requires shared vision.
4. Take a Break. If you find yourself at your wit’s end, you need to take a break. If you are burned out, tired, frustrated or experiencing health problems, start by focusing on your physical well-being. Get enough sleep. Eat right. Get a little exercise. Stepping out of your group will allow you two more hours in the week to do these things. If you don’t feel well physically, you won’t feel well emotionally or spiritually either.
Once you feel a little more rested, focus on your emotional health. How’s your attitude? Do you find yourself scowling or laughing? Are you hopeful or hopeless? On a scale of 1 to 10, where is your cynicism these days? Find a way to do some things for yourself. Take a walk. Watch a movie. Invest in your relationships. Hours of television will only slow your recovery. Honest conversations will revive your soul.
Now, this might seem completely backward, but your spiritual health comes last. I used to think: “Lord, I’m doing your work. I’m tired. I’m burned out. I’m frustrated. Give me supernatural strength to rise above the situation that I’ve created for myself by too many late nights, poor nutrition, and taking on too much. It’s all for you God. Help me, so that I can help you.” God’s response was usually something like: “Oh, give me a break.” God won’t bail you (or me) out and reinforce our bad behavior. Constantly violating God’s design is a sure path to burnout.
God designed us to work hard. God designed us to rest. God designed us for relationship with Him and with others. God designed us for a purpose. God designed us to be fragile (clay pots). Lives are best lived with an ebb and flow. We apply effort and energy, and then we take a break and rest.
The reason that you feel physically tired and emotionally negative after a group meeting is that your body, your system, is telling you that it’s time to get out of group leader/Mr. or Ms. Hospitality mode and relax. It’s not a time to evaluate your performance as a group leader. It’s not a time to consider quitting the group or slitting your wrists. It’s time to rest. Leave behind the mess that you can tolerate (more on OCD another day). If another member is hosting, then you can just go home and not worry about it.
I’ve heard ministry leaders say, “I’d rather burnout than rust out.” I don’t think either is a very good option. It’s better for us to wear out gradually.
Now that your group has spent a few weeks together in the Fall study, you probably have a sense of whether or not you actually like each other and want to continue as a group. Your first thought might be “Continue? What? I thought that this was a six-week commitment.” And, you’re absolutely right, this was only a six-week commitment. I want to thank you for honoring your commitment. This six weeks has been significant in the lives of your group members.
This is not bait and switch. Six weeks is six weeks, fair and square. If you aren’t planning to continue with your group, we do need to think about a couple of things:
1. Is there anyone in your group who has shown interest in continuing the group? If you group has passed around the leadership each week, you probably have a sense of who would be capable of moving the group forward. Who truly cares about the group? Who has attended the most faithfully? Who called when they couldn’t make it? These are the people who care the most about the group and very well could lead the group forward.
2. If there is no apparent leader, are there other groups that you can recommend to your group members? Check to see if there is another group like yours or if there is another group that meets nearby. Don’t just send your group to the wolves, I mean the web. Point them to a couple of specific choices.
If you want to continue with your group, now is the time to decide on your next study. This is the fourth week of the study. It usually works best for groups, especially new groups, to decide on their next study before the current study ends. There are so many choices for studies out there that a period of indecision, even just a couple of weeks, could easily cause your group to falter.
If your group would like to follow the next series at Brookwood Church, we will spend the eight weeks following The Me I Want to Be series looking at the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-13). There are a couple of options that I would like to recommend for your group:
1. Life's Healing Choices is an 8-week study from Saddleback Church. Rick Warren teaches on the DVD. There is also a hard cover book that you can read along with the study.
2. Living a Blessed Life by Lance Witt, a teaching pastor at Saddleback Church, is a 6-week study. This study is an enriching, verse-by-verse discussion of the Beatitudes. A teaching DVD is also available.
3. Message Discussion Guide. The discussion guide is written and posted every Sunday nearly year-round. The guide will help your group apply the teaching from Perry's messages to your daily life. It is available as a download at brookwoodchurch.org/discussionguide
Now if your group has been around for a while or if none of these studies interest you, you are welcome to study what your group is the most interested in. We have a wide variety of Small Group DVDs at the Brookwood Bookstore including studies by Andy Stanley, John Ortberg, Chip Ingram, and many others. You can check the DVD out of the Small Group Library, and then just order the books that you need for your group. When your order comes in, your group members can purchase the study guides from the bookstore.
The most important thing is to make a decision in the next week. If your group is new, you may find that they don’t have much of an opinion about the next study at this point. That’s okay. Just choose one of the options I mentioned for the Beatitudes study and go from there. If you have any questions, your coach will certainly help you.