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You can agree that it takes disciples to make disciples. When you think about groups, there are many parts – leaders, curriculum, group dynamics, training, coaching, and supervision. But, the most basic part of any group is someone who is willing to make themselves available to other people for the purpose of helping them to become more like Christ. While there is a definition of “disciple” that means student. There are other words translated “disciple” that mean “to follow” or “to rub off on.” Making disciples is a multidimensional enterprise. What does this have to do with getting the most new leaders next year?
Obstacles to Recruiting Leaders
Often the limitation of how many new leaders you can recruit stems from your definition of a leader. If you are looking for leaders according to the definition in Paul’s letters, then you are looking for a select group. You have a very small fishing pond in which to recruit new leaders. But, do you really need elders to lead small groups? Sometimes the word “leader” gets in your way.
If you think of disciples as students who are following a course of study, then you need very knowledgeable people to impart biblical and theological knowledge to the students in their small groups. You may have a few seminary trained folks or even a few who have spent copious hours in self-study, but you don’t have enough teachers or leaders to disciple as many people as you are responsible for.
Think about all of the people attending your in-person services, attending your online services, and listed in your church database. (To gauge the true size of your church, go here.) You have a much bigger responsibility than you realize. Yet, your methods of recruiting and developing leaders are lagging behind. (You’re probably thinking: Good grief, Allen. I thought you were trying to encourage me here. We are apparently still in a pandemic. Give us a break). Okay, I hear you, let’s talk about how you can get the most new leaders.
Every Church Attender Can Lead a Group
Every person in your church can lead somebody. If they can recommend a restaurant, they have influence. If they have influence, then they are leaders. If they know Jesus as their Savior and are filled with the Holy Spirit (according to your definition), they have the light of the world. They have hope. They have truth. They have something to offer.
Start looking at your congregation (in-person and online) as an army instead of an audience. Audiences need to be entertained. Armies need their marching orders. The people you have in your congregation right now are ready for their marching orders. The consumer Christians are gone. Don’t hesitate from challenging the people you have with bigger responsibilities. In the last two years you’ve lost just about as many as you are going to lose. If you ever wanted to change your church’s culture, now is the time.
Challenge every person in your church. Challenge every person in your worship service. Challenge every online attender to gather a group of friends and do something intentional about their spiritual growth. For the people you aren’t sure about, don’t advertise the group they gather. Start leading the church you have.
Stop Babying Your People
Your people have more to offer than you give them credit for. But, the only way you will find that out is if you stop doing things for them and encourage them to do things for themselves. I know some pastors are stuck on the “leader” or “teacher” concepts mentioned in the last section. Most of your people fall more in the category of “by now you ought to be teachers, but you still need to be taught” (Hebrews 5:12 – paraphrased).
Your people can gather a group of friends. Have they ever had a party?
Your people can follow the instructions of an easy-to-use, video-based curriculum. Have they ever watch a show on Netflix, followed a recipe, or built a piece of furniture from Ikea?
Your people are doing what you expect them to do. Or as Andy Stanley once said, “Your system is perfectly designed to achieve the result you’re getting.” (Amen or Ouch!?) Your people would do more if you expect them to do more. And, here’s the deal, your church has been through it over the last two years. The people you have right now are the survivors. They are committed. They are ready for action. If you give them permission and opportunity, they will start groups – even in a pandemic, even if they’ve never done it before, or even if you don’t think they can.
How did you get your children to move out of your house and become productive members of society? (I’ll be careful here. I’m still trying to launch one.) If you pay their bills, guide their every move, and let them stay, they will live in your basement for a very long time. If you expect them to pursue a career, start a family, and find a life on their own, they’ll do it. It’s natural. It’s normal. So, why do pastors create an abnormal relationship with their congregations? You will gain far more from sending people out than you ever will by keeping them. Who’s the next group leader? Who’s the next coach? Who’s the next small group pastor? Who’s the next church planter? Who’s the next senior pastor? They are sitting in your congregation just like you were at one time.
Think About This
God has given you a calling and a mission. God has also given you the ability to fulfill your calling and mission. You cannot possibly care for and disciple every person in your church in a personal and profound way. But, that is not your calling. You are called to “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12). That doesn’t mean you need to stop teaching and making disciples. But, it does narrow the focus of who you teach and what you teach them. You must be a ministry multiplier to effectively disciple everyone who is truly part of your church. To disciple every online attender you must multiply yourself. Sure you can dispense content, but content only does half the job of development and discipleship. It takes a disciple to make a disciple.
How will you activate your people to make disciples this next year?
Now, before you take all of this and create a mess for yourself, you need to have a system in place to manage and develop this new crop of “leaders.” You need coaches. You need training. You need next steps. Don’t get stuck here. Because your success only requires developing the minimal amount of structure necessary to support this. For a glimpse of what this looks like, follow the 5-part video series called the Small Group Restart. It provides a road map of how to build this. If you start right now, you can launch the most new group leaders in just a few weeks.
Book: Exponential Groups and the Exponential Groups Workbook
Course: Leading an Exponential Groups Launch
Coaching: Small Group Ministry Coaching Group (Starts in January!)
If people had no objections to leading small groups, your job would be very easy. They would just line up and sign up to lead a group. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. If you can help them overcome their objections, recruiting new leaders can get a whole lot easier. Here are some common objections and ways to overcome them:
“I am not a leader.”
Most people don’t feel they are a leader. But, most people have more leadership ability than they give themselves credit for. When the word “leader” gets in the way, change the word. Twenty years ago when the 40 Days of Purpose launched, churches started using “host” instead of leader. Now if your church has used “host” for the last 20 years, well, the jig is up. People know you just mean “leader.” But, there are other ways to recruit “leaders.”
Instead of recruiting to a title, recruit to a role. Last Sunday when I was recruiting new leaders at Mount Hope Church where I serve as the outsourced Small Group Pastor, the senior pastor and I invited people to “start a group” and “get together with a group of friends and do the study.” We recruited for the role.
If people can gather their friends, even if it’s “you plus two” or “me plus three,” they have the ability to lead a group. John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence.” If they have enough influence to gather the group, they can keep the group going.
“I don’t know enough about the Bible.”
This objection can be overcome in a variety of ways. The church can provide a video-based curriculum which is either purchased or created by the church. The new leader doesn’t need to be a Bible expert, because the expert is your pastor teaching on the video. That’s the quickest way to overcome this objection.
While the ultimate goal is to teach leaders to rightly divide the Word of Truth and lead a solid Bible discussion, a teaching video can help them get started. Once they start, then you can bring them along in their understanding of God’s Word. Think about Sunday school curriculum. Publishers created a teacher’s guide so that if at a minimum the person leading the class merely read the teacher’s quarterly, you would be assured the class would receive solid content. Teaching videos serve a similar purpose.
You’re not looking for teachers (because they will turn their groups into classes). If you don’t use a teaching video, then your new leaders will need to know the basics about the Bible. You could provide a short course on understanding the Bible either live or on-demand. Or the new leader could apprentice in a group for a while. This definitely lengthens the process of developing new leaders.
The small group leader’s role is to facilitate a discussion that leads to Bible application rather than to teach a lesson. You can provide a leader’s guide or leader notes in the lessons if that will help. You could send a coaching video to help the new leaders navigate the lesson topic or even meet with them weekly before their meeting to review the lesson. While I am partial to using a teaching video, these are several ways to prepare your leaders to facilitate a discussion.
“I don’t have time.”
Everybody has the same amount of time. When people say they don’t have time, what they are saying is that a small group is not a priority to them. Now, you could start hammering away on why a small group should be a priority to them. That might get a few more. But, how are your people spending their time?
Some churches offer Sunday school classes, midweek Bible studies, men’s prayer breakfasts, and women’s Bible studies. This might be their group. If it meets their needs for care, connection, and Bible application, then they might not need a group. In fact, you should count them as a group. More than likely they won’t double up and join a small group in addition to this class or Bible study. If their group or serving team doesn’t qualify as a ”small group” (What is your church’s definition of a small group?), then how could they become more “groupish.”
For people who are not in a group, class, or team, maybe you should ask, “Who do they spend time with?” Would they be willing to do a Bible study with the people they regularly spend time with? Many people will take you up on an offer to do a study with those they regularly spend time with– friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and others.
“I don’t want to meet with strangers.”
Then, gather a group of friends. After all, groups of friends tend to last longer than groups of strangers. Offer “Invitation Only” groups. In these groups the new leader invites 100% of the group. These groups aren’t advertised. They can do the study with people they are already comfortable with. The ultimate goal is not comfortable, but it comfort will help them start a group, then go with comfort.
“I don’t have my life together.”
Nobody has their life completely together. Look at the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11. You’ve got murderers, prostitutes, polygamists, and a whole cast of sinners. God used them. God will use imperfect, broken people to lead groups. After all, those are the only people God has to work with.
Now, if someone is going through a personal crisis, you should address their personal issue before you give them the green light to lead a group. People who are experiencing marital problems and are separated or divorced need care themselves before they’re ready to care for others. People who are living an on-going immoral lifestyle need spiritual guidance before they can guide others. People who struggle with a life-controlling problem need to seek help and recovery first. You never want to give the impression that you care more about people serving than you care about them. Give them help, then when the time is right, let them lead.
How do you discern these issues? Ask them, especially if they are leading a group that will be advertised in any way. On the new leader application, ask them what’s going on in their lives. Oftentimes, they won’t turn in the application, but if they do it, then follow up with a warm pastoral conversation about what help they are open to.
You are not looking for perfect people to lead groups. There are no perfect people. To help imperfect people lead groups, give them a coach to walk alongside them. These coaching relationships will go a long way in both developing them as a leader as well as guiding their spiritual next steps. For more on coaching, click here.
“There are too many requirements to lead a group.”
Your simple answer is to delay as many requirements as possible. This is not permanently “lowering the bar.” You are putting aside requirements to attract more new leaders. You will gain the maximum number of new leaders with the minimal amount of requirements that your church leadership will tolerate. Don’t push your leadership beyond where they’re willing to go. Some churches’ only requirements are people who are breathing and willing. Other churches require church membership to lead a group. Others might require training, apprenticing, coaching, co-leading, etc. What could you delay? Start thinking about gathering a group of friends as the first step in your leadership development process. The requirements will all be brought back in due time.
“My home is not big enough or nice enough to host a group.”
If people invite their friends, they won’t be uncomfortable about meeting in their home. Their friends have already been there! They may need to start a smaller small group. That’s okay. If they are really uncomfortable meeting in their home, or if there is a family situation that doesn’t allow it, give them options to be creative. Groups can meet in coffee shops, bookstores, breakrooms at work, outdoors, community rooms at apartment complexes, a friend’s house, or online. At our church in California, we had a group who met on a commuter train. Just give your new leaders permission and opportunity to start a group in a way that works for them.
For 2021: “I’m nervous about COVID.”
Much information and misinformation exists about COVID. You don’t need to wade into accommodating every position and opinion. But, in every church there are those who are convinced that COVID is a killer and others who are convinced that COVID is a conspiracy. Then, there are yet others who are just trying to live their lives. With differences of opinion and differences in information, there is no one solution to address every concern over COVID. The good news is that this isn’t your problem to fix.
To help your potential leaders navigate their concerns over COVID, give them permission and opportunity to gather of group of anyone, anywhere, and any time. They may want to meet online, but that doesn’t just mean Zoom. Groups meet on Facebook, Marco Polo, text message, Slack, and any other place where people gather online. Facebook friends have become Facebook groups. Here are a few more thoughts about online groups and COVID.
The big lesson in 2020-2021 is that even when the church building is closed, Jesus will continue to build his church. Here are the trends I’m seeing. Across North America, while in-person worship attendance is down, giving is steady and salvations and baptisms are up. Could the church be doing a better job of fulfilling the Great Commission amid all of the chaos?
For your groups, go back to the principles that help groups thrive anyway — release control. Encourage your people to invite like-minded people to join their groups. Gather friends, neighbors, co-workers, and others. You don’t need to worry about what group is wearing masks or is vaccinated or is meeting online. Let your people figure this out for themselves. The more permission you give and the less involved you are, the stronger your groups will be.
Think About This
Most of your people are not chomping at the bit to add another responsibility to their lives. The easier you can make starting a group, the more groups you will have. And, once they get started, then you can develop them into the “qualified” leaders you desire.
What other objections are you hearing from prospective small group leaders? Reply in the comments.
By Allen White
Fall is a prime season to launch groups in churches across the country. In my consulting work, I am working with churches from Florida to Washington and Southern California to New York City. Among churches of various sizes and denominations, we are seeing some tremendous results. But, not every church hits a home run with their group launch. Here are some reasons why.
- You picked the wrong topic.
Small groups are a great vehicle for people to grow spiritually. But, in order for people to grow in a group, they need to actually be in a group. If a church’s goal is to connect their congregation into groups, then a felt needs topic is very attractive. If you give people something they want to study, they will jump right in. If you offer something they “should” study, it may not go so well.
Let me go on the record: Healthy, balanced small groups cannot live by felt needs topics alone. But, kicking off groups usually doesn’t go well with series on evangelism, stewardship, fasting, or other self-sacrificial studies. You need to establish your goal. If you want to increase the number of groups, then go felt needs. If you want to grow your people deeper, then offer these topics to your established groups.
- You set the bar too high.
The more requirements for group leadership, the fewer leaders you will recruit. If you required all of your new leaders to be church members, complete a lengthy leadership training process, or graduate with their Master of Divinity, you certainly limited the number of groups you could launch this Fall.
Your level of acceptable risk will greatly determine the reward. If you invite people to do a study with their friends, then you are only limited to people with friends. If you increase the requirements, you lessen the impact.
If you choose to lower the bar next time, then lessen the risk by forming “unpublished” groups. If the groups don’t appear on your church’s website, group listing, or bulletin, you are not implying any kind of official endorsement of the groups. If friends invite friends, you will form good, lasting groups, and if someone gets in a bad group, well, it was their friend’s group after all.
- You focused on recruiting group members.
As a pastor, if the invitation is for potential group members, you may or may not actually start groups. You will certainly give yourself a lot of busy work trying to find enough leaders to accommodate the prospects or trying to place people in the right group. But, you’ve missed the mark and the point.
If you have a bunch of prospective group members, you might have a group. If you have a leader, you WILL have a group. In fact, the best way to get into a group is to start a group — you’re automatically in! When the focus is on recruiting leaders, you will greatly increase your number of groups. If your focus is on members, you will probably just end up with a mess.
- You put too much distance between the invitation and the response.
When you or your senior pastor made the invitation for people to start a group, how and when did they respond?
If they were sent to the church website to register, they didn’t go.
If they were sent to the church lobby, they walked right by.
If they were invited to a meeting in the near future, they forgot.
If they had a sign up card in their hand during the service, bingo, they’re in!
If they were sent an email to remind them to sign up at church on Sunday, they forgot again.
If they were sent an email with a registration link, then they signed up.
The less distance between the invitation and the response, the greater the result.
- You gave too many steps from “Yes” to starting the group.
If the pathway from the response to the group starting took too many steps, then you lost leaders at every phase.
If you recruited months in advance of your group launch, there were too many days before they started. Cold feet and good intentions didn’t get them there.
If you required a training class, a membership class, a pastoral interview, a group orientation, a group connection, and a final debrief meeting, you lost, lost, lost, lost and lost new group leaders.
If you kept the steps to a minimum, based on your own acceptable level of risk, you kept far more than any of the above scenarios.
- Your recruitment period was too short.
A few years ago, I was working with two churches of similar size who were launching groups on the same week. One church recruited 20 new leaders. The other recruited 60. The first church recruited leaders for one week. The second church recruited for three weeks in a row. Triple the recruiting equaled triple the result. You do the math.
- Your senior pastor was not on board.
If your senior pastor was hesitant about your next series in any way, it hurt you. Half-hearted appeals and hit or miss invitations lead to lackluster results.
If your senior pastor didn’t make the invitation for leaders, that was a huge miss. The senior pastor will get three times the result of any other staff member. I’ve served as an associate pastor for 20 of my 24 years of ministry. As soon as I learned this, I never made the invitation again.
How do you get your senior pastor on board with the series you recommend? You don’t. If you want your group launch to succeed, you have to get on board with where your senior pastor wants to go. If you respect your senior pastor’s direction, you will see respectable results. If you try to pressure your senior pastor into a series that is not his idea, you are on your own (literally).
Last Sunday, I worshipped with a church who had never had small groups. Their senior pastor decided it was time. He cast vision for groups. He kept the response close to the invitation. He focused on recruiting leaders. He did it all right. Then, on Sunday afternoon, 360 new group leaders showed up for training (and they have two more weeks to recruit!)
Learn the lessons from your failed attempt. There is no shame in failure, but there is shame in not learning.
Free Fall Group Launch Debrief – Based on YOUR Questions and Issues
with Allen White
1. Take a brief survey to share where your launch fell short.
2. Login to the webinar on:
Tuesday, October 17 at 3pm ET/ 2pm CT/ 1pm MT/ Noon PT
Wednesday, October 19 at 11am ET/ 10am CT/ 9am MT/ 8am PT
Take the Survey and Register Here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/YGW6WZ7
One Participant from Each Webinar will receive a free copy of Exponential Groups by Allen White. You must be on the webinar to win.
by Allen White
I know what you’re thinking — “Who is the fly lady?” The Fly Lady is a phenomena of household organization. She is on a quest, one household at a time, to defeat chaos and improve lives through decluttering and home organization.
Now, I know what you’re thinking next — “Why is she the Fly lady?” This can be confusing to some. She is not fly in the JLo from In Living Color sense. She became known for tying flies for fishing before her career began to help others “fly” through their household chores. Her site is http://flylady.net.
Now, before you stop reading, this is the principle I use every day for my task management: “The worst is first and fast.” Think about all of your tasks for the day. Which is the worst one? Writing your weekly blog post? Confronting someone on an issue? Painting the nursery for your new baby (mine)? Get it out of the way first. As quickly as you can, and then you can have your life back.
When we put things off, those “worst” tasks will drain the life out of everything else for the rest of our day, week, month, year. If it was done, it would be behind us. Wouldn’t that feel nice? Wouldn’t that lighten the load? Get the worst out of the way and get on with the rest. It’s no longer hanging over our heads. It’s done, fini, adios!
It’s a great principle I use every day. Give it a try.
Now, my wife is telling me this principle did not come from the Fly Lady, but rather from Donna Otto. Donna Otto is not the Fly Lady. I’m not sure they’ve met. The principle remains true. Check them both out!