If you need more leaders and even people just to help in your church, you are in good company these days. With low attendance numbers dragging on into the third year since COVID began, the leadership deficit in most churches is bigger than it’s ever been. Small groups are a great catalyst for growing leaders.
Every Disciple Can Make a Disciple
Sometimes you can get a little triggered when we hear the word “leader.” It’s a weighty word. Your mind goes to Paul’s qualifications for elders in his epistles to Timothy and Titus. But, as my friend Randal Alquist at Vertical Church in Connecticut says that when it comes to small group leaders, “We’re not recruiting elders here.” You have more knowledgeable and willing people than you give your church credit for. Give them a chance. If they have friends, they can make disciples. But, you don’t want to lower the bar on the title of “leader.”
Paul says, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Timothy 5:22). Keep the leadership bar high. Only call someone a “leader” once they’ve met the requirements and have received training. But also remember that you don’t need a “leader” to make a disciple. You need a disciple to make a disciple.
When you read “every disciple can make a disciple,” your mind immediately goes to some special people in your church. They’re probably people you would never imagine leading a group or discipling anybody. First, don’t be so closed minded. Crazy people have the unique ability to minister to other crazy people. Second, as my friend Brett Eastman says, “Let the exceptions be the exceptions.” You might be tempted to create an entire system to account for the exceptions. Don’t. Remember that 98% of your people will do a great job leading a group and discipling others. Don’t avoid trying something new or moving forward because someone might cause a problem. As my friend Mark Howell says, “There is no problem-free.” (I just realized that I’m blessed to have so many great friends).
Create an Easy Entry Point
For your people who are not ready to be called a “leader,” create an opportunity for a low risk trial run. This could be as simple as “getting together with your friends and doing a study” for a short-term study of six weeks or so. Provide a video-based curriculum, so they don’t have to teach. (You don’t want them to teach if they’re not trained). You provide an experience leader to walk alongside them to both help and supervise. Then, they invite their friends. Who will they invite?
Let’s say the scale of spiritual growth is 0 – 10. Zero are those who haven’t committed their lives to Christ. Tens are those who are “Jesus Jr.” Everyone falls somewhere on the scale. Now, if a spiritual three starts a group open to anybody and fives, sixes, and sevens show up, what’s going to happen? It will be a terrible experience. The spiritual three is still trying to figure out where the book of Habakkuk is, which makes the group rolls their eyes. But, what if that same three invites his or her friends. Who will be invited? The group will probably be threes, twos, ones, zeros, negative twos, etc.
Don’t Advertise These Groups
If you truly want to take the risk out of these groups, then don’t advertise them or send anyone to these groups. If you put the groups on your website or refer the group to someone, you’ve given the group an implied endorsement. If the “leader” hasn’t met the requirements to lead a group or lacks experience in leading, then those who sign up will experience disappointment. Their expectations weren’t met.
But, if someone gathers their friends, then their friends should know what they’re in for. It’s their friend. In my experience, I’ve never heard someone complain, “My friend’s group is terrible. I can’t believe you let them lead a group. They don’t know what they’re doing.” If they complain about their friend, my reply would be, “It’s your friend. This is on you, not on me.” But, I’ve never heard that complaint. People give grace to their friends.
A Six Week Study is Just a Start
An alignment series or church-wide campaign is the start of a leadership development process. If they enjoy doing a study with their friends, then offer them another study to continue. Once they have two studies under their belt, then begin to reintroduce the leadership requirements you delayed. Once they have met the requirements, then you can call them “leaders.”
Churches who keep a low bar on leadership for years create a situation with a diminishing return. If series after series is presented as too easy, then campaigns will become unimportant to your members. After all if you don’t increase the requirements for leaders and expect more of group members, then they will regard what you’re offering as unimportant. As my friend Carl George once said, “Churches have a one to three year window to get people into groups with campaigns.” After that, your members will suffer what I call campaign fatigue. They become weary of church-wide push after church-wide push.
You’ve got to know when to offer an easy entry point, when to reintroduce the requirements, and when to challenge your groups in their spiritual growth and commitment. While you don’t want to leave anyone in the dust, you also don’t want to keep everybody in Kindergarten. An easy entry point will get admitted non-leaders started, but keeping the bar low will not keep them engage long term.
On-going Leadership Development
Everyone in your groups, both leaders and members, should be taken through a process to discover and develop their spiritual gifts. Use a great resource like Discover Your Spiritual Gifts the Network Way by Bruce Bugbee, SHAPE from Saddleback, or Find Your Place by Rob Wegner and Brian Phipps. Your people should know their spiritual gifts and abilities, then be offered a way to use their gifts in the ministry of your church. Leadershift by Don Cousins and Bruce Bugbee is a great resource on how to implement a ministry development process in your church.
Of course, within every group, every member can learn to lead a group. Pass around the responsibilities from bringing refreshments to hosting in their homes to leading the discussion. You can develop every group member to lead a group.
Think About This
The global pandemic has rapidly and dramatically caused culture to change. It’s almost like we’ve experienced a decade’s worth of change in the last two years. Things aren’t going back to normal. What we are experiencing now is the normal. You have to lead the church you’ve got.
Not every ministry your church offered in 2019 is worth keeping. While COVID brought a great deal of chaos, it also brought a significant amount of clarity. Have you evaluated what your church no longer needs? If your worship center is only half full on Sunday mornings, then you probably don’t need a parking team. Could your parking team make disciples instead? It’s time to evaluate your ministries. Eliminate what is no longer working or is not meeting a need. “Right size” the ministries that are working. Then, readjust the culture of your church for what lies ahead. Don’t be afraid to lose the people you have. They are with you. They are ready to move forward. If there ever was a time to change things, now is the time.
Forming new groups is one thing, but keeping your new groups is a different story. A church asked for coaching a few years ago. They were in a desperate situation. Having just completed their first 40 Days of Purpose campaign, the church was left with a result they didn’t want or expect. Prior to the campaign, the church didn’t have any groups. At the launch of 40 Days, they started 233 groups. It was an amazing story, until Day 41. When the campaign ended, the church was left with three groups. Now, if your a glass is half full kind of person, you would say, well, they have three more groups than they’ve ever had. But, if you’re more like me, well, going from 233 to 3 is a tragic loss. And, it was completely unnecessary.
Campaigns are Just a Start.
I love church-wide campaigns. They are a great way to get avowed non-leaders to open their homes to either host a group or get together with their friends and do a study. After all, you don’t need a leader to make disciples. You need a disciple to make disciples. Often the leadership word gets in the way. It’s okay to be stingy with the term “leader.” Just call them something else. After all, you’re not recruiting elders here.
If people are willing to open their homes and/or gather their friends, the truth is they already have more leadership ability than they give themselves credit for. It’s actually a pretty good test. If people have what it takes to gather a group, then they also have the ability to keep the group. Campaigns are a great way to get leaders to self-select. You don’t need to twist anybody’s arm. You just need to give them permission and opportunity to start a group. A short-term campaign of six weeks or so based on an easy-to-use curriculum is a great way to get them started. If your senior pastor is on the curriculum, then that’s a huge winner.
Give Them a Next Step.
Here’s an interesting fact about people: if you invite them to do a six-week study, when the six weeks is over, they think they’re done. I don’t know where they would get an idea like that. Most small group pastors/directors hope that people will love leading a group and will naturally want to continue. But, there’s the catch — many of them won’t think about continuing until you invite them to continue.
Think of it this way: when people sign up to start a group for a campaign, they are entering into a leadership recruiting process. Maybe you delay some of the requirements initially. You give them enough training to get started, then you let them lead the short-term group. It’s pretty easy. This is stage one of the leadership recruiting process. But, then you need to offer them stage two — continuing into another study.
If the groups like meeting together, then it should be pretty easy to invite them to a next step study like Community: Six Weeks to a Healthy Group, so they will continue. If the group faces some obstacles, then you or their coach needs to walk them through the issue and help them continue. And, of course, a few groups won’t be able to go forward. That’s okay. The campaign is a test drive to see whether people like leading a group. It’s low commitment and low requirement. If they will accept the offer to a second study, then they are well on their way to becoming a full-fledged group leader.
If your groups are still in a Fall campaign, then offer them a study right now before the groups end. If they are new groups, choose the study for them. If they are established groups, then let them go back to what they’re used to doing.
You asked for it! Over 80% of you told me in the 2019 Reader Survey that you would like short videos as well as blog posts. I did a quick video this morning…on my phone…without a tripod…one take. I’ll get better, but don’t miss the content and the beautiful view of Falls Park on the Reedy in Greenville, SC.
How are you overcoming these two limitations? Leave your comments below. I will respond!
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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.
By Allen White When you think about connecting a congregation into community or taking a crowd and turning them into disciples, the task can be quite mindboggling. Sometimes in contemplating the enormity of the task, we expend a lot of energy on things that are either not great investments of our time or are things other people should be doing. There is only so much of any small group pastor or director. Knowing where to apply your efforts will determine your success and possibly your sanity. I tend to learn best in the school of hard knocks. Please understand while I believe all of my efforts have been well intentioned, I have made quite a number of well intentioned mistakes along the way. The good news is I have learned or am learning from most of those failed attempts, and I am now passing these painful lessons on to you. Every small group pastor, including myself, who considers how to connect a congregation into community, typically starts with the wrong questions, which lead to the wrong strategies, which ends up with poor results. It typically goes like this: 1. How do I connect people into groups? This is question comes from the assumption that most people file in and out of church never talking to anybody and have no real friends outside of church. People are far more connected than you might imagine. In fact, I would go so far as to say your people are already in multiple groups. The question is: how are those groups helping them to grow spiritually? What are they doing to intentionally grow in their faith? The reality is most people don’t have time for a small group and lack the capacity to maintain any more relationships. Now, before you quit your job, there’s a solution. Think about how people can leverage their existing connections to grow spiritually. Could you create an easy to use curriculum available for them to discuss spiritual things with their friends at dinner or their co-workers at lunch? The dilemma is not placing people into groups, but introducing a spiritual growth component to the groups they are already in. If you feel your main task is to place people into groups via some dreaded system like a sign up card, trust me, you need to get out of that business ASAP. Yes, there are some exceptions to what I described above, but as Brett Eastman would say, “Let the exceptions be the exceptions.” If you build your entire system around the needs of exceptions, you will devote 90% of your energy to less than 5% of your people. For more ideas on how to connect people who are new to your church and who have truly no friends, click here. 2. How do I recruit group leaders? You don’t. If your senior pastor is willing to create small group curriculum based on his teaching, then he will volunteer to recruit group leaders for you. You may be thinking, “That will never work in my church.” Let me ask you a question, “Has your senior pastor ever created his own curriculum?” Once a pastor has invested his time and energy in producing a small group curriculum, he won’t want to see that investment go to waste. In just a few short weeks, your pastor can get half or more of your congregation into a study based on his teaching. All he has to do is ask. He will want to ask because he now has skin in the game. I’ve seen this happen in a church of 50 people, churches of tens of thousands of people, and both of the churches I have served on staff. Small group pastors don’t need to recruit small group leaders. Your senior pastor will take care of this (and get a far better result). 3. How do I support and encourage small group leaders? This is the right question. The real work of a small group pastor is to implement the systems and strategies to sustain groups over time (Wow, that really sounds like Brett Eastman). When I coach small group pastors in how to launch a church-wide series, the first task is to identify experienced group leaders and mature believers who will serve as a small group team for the first teaching series. Imagine if you suddenly had half or better of your congregation in groups, how would you manage the needs of those leaders? Sure you could send a few email blasts or have your assistant call them, but the key to developing groups which will continue is a coaching structure to support them. This is a decentralized, one-on-one strategy. It’s the opposite of on-campus training meetings or robocalls. There is a place for training meetings. There is no place for robocalls. Everybody hates telemarketers…everybody. (I actually was a telemarketer for three days once. It was hard to live with myself for those 72 hours). The hard work of small group ministry lies here. If you skip this step, then you will experience a short-lived, one-time success and then it will devolve into a number of leaders you can personally manage. Again, I’ve lived it. I’ve been there. This is not a reason to become overwhelmed. This is a reason to pray. God knows what He wants to accomplish in your church during your upcoming launch. God also knows every person who can help you successfully start and sustain groups. If you ask God to direct you to the right small group team, pay attention to who crosses your path. God will answer your prayer. He’s certainly answered mine.