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If you choose to lower the bar next time, then lessen the risk by forming “unpublished” groups.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.
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Tuesday, October 17 at 3pm ET/ 2pm CT/ 1pm MT/ Noon PT
Wednesday, October 19 at 11am ET/ 10am CT/ 9am MT/ 8am PT
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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!
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
Ben Reed is a gifted guy who blogs Life and Theology at benreed.net. He has a knack for finding leadership lessons in various situations, then blogs about them. For some reason, as I headed to the dump last week, I thought of Ben’s writing. (That isn’t a commentary of his writing, by the way). Here’s what I discovered:
1. When you have to wait, you have time to think.
If you’ve ever taken a load to the dump, you know there is no express lane at the dump. No fast pass. No gold card. It’s a great equalizer, except for the rich folks who pay people to go for them. Waiting in line at the dump gives you plenty of time to think.
John Maxwell said once, “We don’t learn by experience. We learn by evaluated experience.” After all if we solely learned by experience, then why has anyone ever repeated a mistake? We should have learned. But, when you take a little time to reflect, maybe as you’re waiting at the dump, you gain insights into not only what worked and what didn’t, but also what led you to the experience, why you were motivated to go there, and how you can be more effective in the future.
For instance, if you need to go to the dump, you understand to avoid Saturdays. Go in the middle of the day during the work week, if you can. Otherwise, you will end up with a LOT of time to reflect.
2. Any life situation can teach a lesson.
Some of us have “pastoritis.” We’re not allergic to pastors. But, we can turn any story into a spiritual analogy.
Back when we lived in Northern California, I would hike in Yosemite National Park with my friends. I would always “Mirandize” them prior to the trip: “Anything that happens can be used as a sermon illustrations.” There were a lot of great stories out of those trips – most at my expense.
If we pay attention, there are lessons to be learned all around us. Jesus did this in His teaching. He taught based on agriculture, shepherding, lilies, birds and many other common things. Jesus took unfamiliar concepts and packaged them in familiar language. What is your life teaching you?
3. When you go to the dump, you are not in charge.
No matter who you are, no matter how much you make, no matter who looks to you for leadership, when you’re at the dump, nobody cares. My son and I hopped out our van and began loading boxes into a large recycling container. A worker shouted across the parking lot, “Put the boxes in on the other side!” This wasn’t Jesus telling us to cast our nets on the other side.
Somehow the distribution of our cardboard was going to radically offset the recycling container’s balance. Not only were we recycling our cardboard, now we were sorting it. I was not in charge. I had to follow the rules. My status at the dump simply came down to this: was I a good customer who followed instructions or was I a bad customer about to be scolded by a county employee? Nothing else about me mattered in that moment.
4. A surprising mix of people use the dump.
As I looked around the dump, I saw a number of vehicles I was surprised to see at the dump. Maybe saving on trash pickup helped them to afford their cars. Then, there were other cars the owners could have very well left at the dump. I was driving my wife’s car, so we were somewhere in the middle.
Some people where there with an overabundance of yard waste. Others didn’t want to pay the $25 per month for garbage service, so they did it themselves. Several, like my son and I, were dutifully recycling. Others were trying to figure out why the sanitation workers wouldn’t haul off their old TVs and computers.
The dump isn’t mandatory like the DMV. You don’t have to go there. But, it’s free and it meets a variety of needs. I’m contemplating ending my garbage pickup, but I’m a little afraid they would keep my car too.
5. Mentioning “Ben Reed” on your blog is an SEO magnet.
Ben Reed is an outstanding small groups pastor at Grace Community Church. Ben Reed lives in Clarkesville, Tennessee. Ben Reed runs communication for the Small Group Network. Ben Reed tweets more than anybody I know. Ben Reed just helped my SEO…cha-ching. Thanks, Ben Reed, for being a good sport on my blog today.