Some churches practice a simple church model. They offer just a few options to their congregations. These are churches like North Coast Church, Vista, CA led by Larry Osborne or Mariners Church led by Eric Geiger, who wrote the book Simple Church. They promote their weekend worship services, small groups, serving, local and global missions, but little else beyond that. Life seems simpler in a simple church. But your church might be more complicated, especially in a legacy church.
Once I served a church that was the polar opposite of a simple church. They prided themselves on being a complicated church that hoped to offer something for everybody. Promoting small groups was complex to say the least. If you promote everything equally, then nothing is a priority. (More here in my post: The Unfairness of Being Fair). After all, if everything is important, then nothing is important. But, we grew the groups in that church from 30% of 5,000 adults connected to 78% in the four years I served there. Here’s how we did it:
Let’s say your groups meet a minimum of twice per month for the purpose of Bible application, community, and occasional serving projects. By defining a group in your church, you are also stating what a small group is not in your church. Think about all of the things you are offering your adults to see what might be competing with groups.
For instance, let’s say you have a men’s prayer breakfast that meets once per month. Is this a group? Having been to quite a few men’s prayer breakfasts over the years, I’ve discovered there is usually more breakfast than prayer. (The prayer is typically for the food). You might discover that the men who attend this breakfast regard this as their small group, yet by your definition this men’s breakfast doesn’t qualify as a group. It doesn’t have Bible application or occasional serving, but it has plenty of community. Also, it doesn’t meet often enough by your definition. In fact, once a month groups really don’t meet frequently enough to provide deep community. I call these groups a small group placebo. They give the feeling of being in a group but lack the benefits of being in a group.
But with your definition of groups, you are also opening up the possibilities for how many groups you actually have. Maybe you just don’t call them groups.
What Groups, Classes, Serve Teams, or Bible Studies Might Qualify as Groups?
Compare your definition with all of the “groups” in your church. Think of serving teams, Bible studies, small groups, classes, and whatever else you’ve got. Which qualify as a group by your definition? Which do not? Which could become a little more “groupish”?
Can on-campus groups, classes, Sunday school classes, or Bible studies be categorized as “groups”? This is not just an exercise in semantics. You need to consider all of the things in your church that help make disciples. Even the old fashioned options could be good options.
Avoid Competing with Yourself
I am working with a church that’s made a goal of connecting half of their adults into a certain type of off-campus groups. Upon further examination, we discovered that they have a lot of other options for their adults that would also fit the criteria for a group: women’s Bible studies, men’s Bible studies, in-depth Bible classes, and several others. In the current thinking, these other “groups” are competing with their goal of getting half of their people into off-campus groups.
In this situation, you can do one of two things: either cancel all of these other groups leading to a revolt or broaden your definition of groups. Stick with me here. This isn’t just for the sake of numbers and bragging rights. Years ago a friend of mine proudly announced, “Suddenly, we have 92% of our adults in groups.” He was at a traditional Baptist church with a very large, well established adult Sunday school. The vast majority of the adults were in Sunday school classes. He reconfigured his definition of groups and overnight went from nobody in groups to 92% in groups. So what?
My friend knew that an alignment series or a church-wide campaign wasn’t necessary to connect people into groups in his church. Sunday school was meeting that need. He would have preferred everyone to choose off-campus small groups, but he also wanted to keep his job. He left Sunday school alone, because it was working. But, he also discovered an opportunity: 8% of their adults were not in a Sunday school class. How could he help them grow spiritually?
Now, Who at Your Church is Not in Group?
Rather than focusing on draining your women’s ministry to get more people into “groups,” focus on connecting people who are only attending the worship service. (Besides that Beth Moore addiction is very hard to break). You don’t need to regroup people who are already in groups.
Who is not in a group of any type in your church? The bigger question is “Why did they say ‘No’ to what you are currently offering and what might they say, ‘Yes’ to.” They are not being disloyal or unfaithful in not taking you up on their offer. You’re just not offering what they want or need. Offer something different.
If you are the only one recruiting all of your group leaders, invite people to volunteer to host a group in their homes. If you’ve been using the host strategy since 40 Days of Purpose launched 20 years ago, then the gig is up. People know that host really means “leader.” Instead encourage people to get together with their friends and do a study. Provide an easy entry point to LEAD a group. Pastors talk about easy entry points to join a group, but that misses the mark. Your leading metric should be leading a group instead of joining a group.
How Do You Pull This Off?
You have a few options here.
A good option is for your senior pastor to invite your members to lead a group with an easy-to-use curriculum that you purchase. There is a lot of great video-based curriculum out there. Go to topbiblestudies.com for a curated list.
A better option is for your senior pastor to invite your members to lead a group with an easy-to-use curriculum that you create based on your senior pastor’s teaching. This does not need to be aligned with the sermon series. Your pastor on the teaching video will greatly increase your group participation.
The best option is for your senior pastor to invite your members to lead a group with an easy-to-use curriculum that you create based on your senior pastor’s teaching that aligns with the sermon series. The senior pastor asks. The senior pastor teaches. The senior pastor aligns. The key to all three of these options is your senior pastor.
What if my senior pastor isn’t interested? Pay attention to where your senior pastor is headed in the fall, in the new year, or after Easter, then link your small group launch with where your pastor is going. For more, read here.
Think About This
You don’t need to compete with yourself. Your people might already be engaging in the very things you want to see them do in groups. Getting people to shift from classes to groups is a losing battle, and you’re the loser. You don’t even need to relabel classes as groups. Just regard them as groups. If a person receives care, community, and Bible application in a class, they’re not going to join a group anyway. This is their group!
You don’t need to compete with your people either. They’re already in groups! They have friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives, and others in their lives that they already enjoy spending time with. You don’t need to unnaturally place them into a group of strangers. Give them an easy-to-use curriculum and a coach to guide them, and then let them do what groups do in your church.
What is a group in your church? What groups do you already have? Where is your pastor headed around the time of your next major group launch? Do this work now and you will have a great opportunity to make more disciples than ever before.
By now you’ve probably heard of Rooted or used it in your church. Rooted is an experience brought over from Kenya by Mariners Church about a decade ago. If you haven’t heard of Rooted, you can get the full details here and here . While many churches have seen phenomenal life transformations through Rooted, other churches have struggled to implement Rooted or to deal with life after Rooted. While I’ve written a great deal about what is working with Rooted, let’s take a look at what churches are finding difficult.
Rooted is a Big Deal, but It’s Only 10 Weeks
Where will your groups go after Rooted ends? While Rooted should be a major initiative in any church, it is only 10 weeks. Rooted requires a certain amount of training in order to qualify a facilitator to lead the Rooted group. So, for the group to continue, you need to raise up a new leader to lead the on-going group. If you don’t then, you will lose your Rooted facilitator and will have to recruit more facilitators for future groups. You have to begin with the end in mind.
As the Rooted group starts, the facilitator needs to quickly size up the Rooted group to see who the potential on-going group leader might be. You could even get ahead of this by recruiting the on-going leader before the Rooted group begins. Of course, this puts you in the dilemma of recruiting both Rooted facilitators and group leaders. We all know how tough handpicking leaders can be.
One option would be to ask someone to gather a group, then give them a Rooted facilitator. Similar to a church-wide campaign where someone would gather their friends, then the church would supply a video-based curriculum. Instead of giving them a video, you would give them a Rooted facilitator. Then, when the 10-weeks of Rooted ends, you have the on-going leader in place.
The approach to disciple making in Rooted is much different than most Western left-brained approaches. The rhythms of Rooted touch on both the left and right sides of the brain. (For more on this see, The Other Half of Churchby Jim Wilder and Michel Hendricks). While there is plenty of left brained activity like daily homework and Bible discussion, the addition of the rhythms and experiences of Rooted produce powerful transformation. This combination creates an appetite for more. The problem is at this point there isn’t more.
I have seen a few other attempts at follow up studies to Rooted like Story and Life in Rhythm, but at this point neither of these measure up to the original Rooted. So, should your church avoid Rooted until this is remedied? Absolutely not! But, here’s what you need to think through.
First, in time Life in Rhythm will measure up, so be patient. You can offer Rooted without offering its immediate cousin as a next step. In fact, you can turn any 6-8 week study into a Rooted sequel by adding the prayer experience, strongholds study, serve experience, and celebration. The appetite is for the rhythms and not necessarily the “brand.” (But, the brand is pretty great.)
Next, consider other studies which relate to the themes of Rooted. At the Rooted Celebration the graduates are commissioned to find and fill needs in the community as “ministers of the Gospel.” Studies like The Neighboring Life by Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis or The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon would dovetail beautifully with this commission. After all, you don’t need any special ability to be a neighbor!
Before you begin Rooted in your church, you need to have a next step study in mind. If you haven’t planned a next step, then you will have created an appetite that will go unsatisfied in your church. That is never a good thing.
Churches Don’t Know What They’re Getting Into
Rooted is a powerful experience. I have seen little else that produces the level of life transformation as Rooted. But, you know when you introduce powerful godly forces, then you will face a significant amount of spiritual warfare.
When I worked with Mariners Church and the Rooted Network on their pastors’ training events, as a Rooted semester began things would always happen: financial struggles, relationship tension, health problems – you name it. In every semester stuff happened. As a Presbyterian friend of mine says, “Well, when you do things for God you can expect a certain amount of spiritual flak!” And, we did. At one point, I mentioned to Robin Riley, the former COO of Rooted, “When it comes to the dynamics of Rooted, sometimes I wonder if you should run toward it or run away from it.” I’m not saying these things to scare you, but you need to be prepared.
You need to bathe your Rooted launch and Rooted experience in prayer. This is a powerful tool. God will do amazing things, but you will face opposition. Before you execute a single strategy, ask the prayer warriors in the church to pray for your staff, your facilitators, your members, your church, and your community. Otherwise, if you launch headlong into Rooted without sufficient prayer covering, you might end up like the Sons of Sceva (Acts 19). Ok, maybe not exactly, but you get what I’m saying.
Give every Rooted facilitator a coach and check in with them regularly. Rooted will bring up a lot of stuff. You won’t see this in the first two or three weeks, but after that, your facilitators will face some things they may not have experience in. They will need to process what’s going on in their group. Enlist some mature folks in your church to check in with your facilitators every week and make themselves available to them. While this is something you might be tempted to skip, don’t skip it. This is necessary for the well-being of your leaders.
Rooted Brings Up Major Issues
If Rooted works well, then Rooted graduates will never be the same. People will come to Christ. People will be set free. Some will be completely overwhelmed by the spiritual strongholds in their lives (Week 5). They will need something beyond Rooted to address these issues.
I am currently working with a church that did Rooted as a church-wide campaign a couple of years ago. All 1,400 of their people did Rooted all at once. They are still trying to sort everything out. For months there was not a single counseling appointment available in their town. All of the counselors were booked up with Rooted graduates who needed to process their strongholds.
If your church is doing Rooted as a church-wide campaign, then have some resources in place to deal with these strongholds. Celebrate Recovery and other support groups can be a great resource. Recommendations for local counselors will be welcome. The strength of Rooted is that people will face stuff that they’ve buried for a long time. They will experience freedom. They will experience blessing and connection with God. But, this isn’t automatic. Be prepared to give them the help they will need.
The Biggest Problem with Rooted
Churches have been anxious to offer Rooted to their people to see their lives transformed. This is a wonderful thing. This is what first attracted me to Rooted. But, this is only half of the equation.
The purpose of Rooted is to transform both people AND churches. When the people change but the church doesn’t change, there is a problem. Rooted is built on the Simple Church concept [LINK]. Rooted calls for you to re-evaluate the ministries in your church and to purge the things that don’t align with your mission.
In the early days of Rooted in North America, much was made about the Loop (pictured below). Now, many Rooted churches don’t know what the Loop is.
The title of the Loop tells the story: Transformational versus Transactional. The intent of Rooted is to change people’s lives, but also to change the culture of your church. The focus goes to culture, connection, and outreach – nothing else. Rooted is an empowering movement. But, if you attempt to put new wine into old wineskins, then you’ll have a mess on your hands.
Think About This
If you’re church is using Rooted or planning to, do it! But, plan ahead. Here’s your checklist:
What is your prayer strategy?
Who will lead the on-going group?
What are the next steps after Rooted?
Who will coach the Rooted facilitators?
What resources will you offer people to process their spiritual strongholds?
How will you allow Rooted to impact your church in every area?
Rooted can and will make a tremendous difference your community. If you are ready or reluctant to launch Rooted in your church, then let’s talk. Click this link to set up an appointment.]
By Allen White
Most of us have cycled through small group strategies and discipleship methods and ended up with mixed results. Some strategies helped us start a bunch of groups, but didn’t help our people growth. Other pathways raised the quality of groups, but could not multiply groups fast enough.
Currently, I am dedicating my time, talent, and treasure to four movements where we are seeing lives transformed and communities reached with the Gospel. If that sounds like an outrageous claim, then I would ask you to look into the webinars and websites connected to each of these movements. I hope you see what I am seeing and learn how God is using things old and new to build his Church.
Rooted is based on a non-Western approach to experiential discipleship. Through a mix of large group gatherings, small group meetings, and experiences, people are coming to Christ, taking their next steps in faith, and finding lasting transformation. Rooted motivates congregations unlike anything else I’ve seen. People who “graduate” from the 10-week Rooted experience join on-going small groups (90%), serve more (73%), and give more (84%) than before they participated in Rooted. Website:experiencerooted.com Webinar: Wednesday, March 8, 2pm ET – Register at experiencerooted.com/events Rooted Gathering: March 22-24, 2017 in the DFW Area – Register at experiencerooted.com/events
Neighboring is the future of ministry.
Whether your church rocked the attractional model in the 1990s or deployed your congregation in the missional movement in the 2000s, the days of big box worship services and churches serving the community in matching t-shirts are coming to an end. As our culture becomes more secular and less favorable toward the church, headline-making large events will become unwelcome in the coming years.
Neighboring is based on Jesus’ second command : “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Who’s my neighbor? Well, what if you neighbor is your actual neighbor? Neighboring is a focus that believers don’t love their neighbors so they’ll become Christians, we neighbor because we are Christians. While this is outreach, neighboring would more correctly be viewed as a spiritual practice. By taking believers out of their comfort zone, they face their fears, learn to trust God, and building relationships that will inform their own spiritual growth and challenge their comfort. Website:theneighboringchurch.com Resources:The Neighboring Church by Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis Coming Resources: The Neighboring Church Staff Training Curriculum and The Neighboring Life Launch Kit recently filmed at the Neighborhood Collective at Oak Hills Church, San Antonio, TX features teaching by Randy Frazee, Rick Rusaw, Brian Mavis, Tom Anthony, Dave Runyan, Chris Freeland, Nate Bush, Lynn Cory, and other thought-leaders in the neighboring movement. (June 1, 2017 release).
3. GroupLife Southwest
Okay, this is a conference that represents a movement. GroupLife Southwest fills
the gap left by the end of Willow Creek’s Small Group Conference. By presenting multiple voices, Mark Howell and Canyon Ridge Christian Church, Las Vegas, demonstrate the genius of applying multiple strategies to a church in both connecting and growing their members.
Speakers include Bill Willits (North Point Ministries), Dave Enns (North Coast Church), Chris Surratt (Lifeway), Hugh Halter (Forge), Mindy Caliguire (SoulCare), Mike Foster (People of the Second Chance), Todd Engstrom (The Austin Stone), Boyd Pelley (ChurchTeams), Mark Howell (markhowelllive.com), and Allen White. The conference is March 27-28, 2017 in Las Vegas.
Use the code: ALLEN for a substantial discount.
For more information and to register: http://www.grouplifesouthwest.com/
4. Exponential Groups
It’s not a coincidence that the title of this fourth movement is also the title of my
book. It seems the American church has retired. We cater to ourselves. Do enough to feel satisfied. But, act as if we have the luxury of time in reaching our world. Not all churches act this way, but the vast majority do.
Time is short. It is time to turn our audience into an army. By empowering and equipping our people to serve, the quest is no longer to connect 100% of our people into groups, but to enlist 100% of our people to LEAD.
We have coddled our people into complacency for far too long. The attractional services where we invited people to be comfortable backfired, in that, they took us up on the offer to be comfortable. It’s time to wake the sleeping giant. It’s time to stop catering to Baby Boomers. (And, for the sake of full disclosure, I’m 52 — the last of the Boomers). In fact, in the next decade, ministry to Boomers will be called “Senior Adult Ministry.” That’s not the future of the church!
As the Church, we have been thinking and planning for 2,000 years. It’s time to take action. Website: allenwhite.org Webinar:Help, My Groups are Stuck at 30 Percent! on: Thursday, March 9 at 1pm ET/ Noon CT/ 11am MT/ 10am PT Tuesday, March 14 at 2pm ET/ 1pm CT/ Noon MT/ 11am PT Register:allenwhite.org/webinars Book is Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Cokesbury, Christian Book Unsubscribe | 503 N. Main Street, Mauldin, SC 29662
I sat down recently with my publisher, Hendrickson Publishers, for a live interview about Exponential Groups. Well, my part was live. Their part was in print, so I have to basically interview myself. I hope you enjoy this and hear my heart for equipping and empowering our people to lead groups. The video is 15 minutes, but if you want to skip around, I’ve listed the questions below along with their time stamps. Oh, and buy the book!
What is your background? (0:00)
Who is the audience for Exponential Groups and what is the book about? (0:50)
What has made you so passionate about expanding churches’ small groups? (1:45)
What do you think is the biggest factor hindering churches from successful group-making? (2:47)
What advice would you give to someone who would like to start a small group but doesn’t want to be considered its “leader”? (3:45)
What are ways that a church can be creative in its approach to creating groups? (4:35)
In chapter 1 you mention that a desire for control will hinder the growth of groups. For those who haven’t read the book yet, what are some other examples of factors or mental blocks that typically hold groups back from their potential to expand that you discuss in Exponential Groups? (5:42)
What’s the best piece advice you’ve received about small groups? (8:02)
What’s a sticky situation or failed plan that you have learned from? (9:15)
What projects are you working on now or have planned for the future? (11:05)
One year ago after following a nudge from the Holy Spirit, which felt move like a shove, my wife and I formed our own coaching organization. It was a big step. After working for two churches and then two stints at Lifetogether Ministries with Brett Eastman, it was time to go out on our own. And, what a year it’s been! Exponential Groups, my first book on small groups, will be released on February 1, 2017 from Hendrickson Publishers. Writing this book was something I just felt compelled to do, even if my mom is the only one who reads it. It’s the stories and best practices from the over 1,500 churches I’ve coached and the two churches I served on staff. Why Exponential Groups? When we recruit individual leaders, we grow by addition. When we train apprentices and “birth” new groups, we grow by multiplication. When we engage our entire congregation in the Great Commission, we grow exponentially. You can preorder Exponential Groups at Christianbook.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online outlets. Hint: The book is $5 cheaper at Christianbook.com (my publisher owns it). (Download the first chapter Here). But, this isn’t the best part.
I have the privilege of coaching some of the great churches across North American and helping them grow their groups exponentially. Here is a partial list of churches I’ve worked with in the last 12 months in various ways.
C4 Church, Ajax, Ontario
Christ Tabernacle, Queens, NY
Discovery Church, Orlando, FL
Eastlake Church, Chula Vista, CA
Manna Church (ARC), Fayetteville, NC
Next Level Church (ARC). Ft Myers, FL
Peninsula Covenant Church, Redwood City, CA
St. Johns Lutheran Church (LCMS), Orange, CA
The Branch Church (COC), Dallas, TX
Victory Worship Church (AG), Tuscon, AZ
Ward Church (EPC), Northville, MI
Allison Park Church (AG), Pittsburg, PA
Bethesda Pentecostal Church, St. Johns, Newfoundland
Mariners Church, Huntington Beach, CA
The Rooted Network, Mariners Church, Irvine, CA
Venture Church, Los Gatos, CA
Chip Ingram and Living on the Edge (multiple projects)
Doug Fields and Intentional Parenting (Discussion Guide)
Lutheran Church of the Atonement (ECLA), Barrington, IL
Kingdom Life Church, Baltimore, MD
Wow, when I stop and look at the list, I realize it truly has been an amazing first year. I also serve churches in some low cost ways:
My Blog: allenwhite.org An Hour with Allen
We’ve had a great first year and have seen great progress in the churches we have served. My hope in the coming year is not only to help more churches grow their small groups, but also to help more churches grow their people. In the Great Commission, Jesus charges every believer with the responsibility to “Go and make disciples…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The word we are keying in on for 2017 is “obey.” Jesus didn’t tell his disciples (including us) to “teach them…everything.” He commanded us to “teach them to obey everything.” An obedient church is a growing churches. Priorities will change. Chains will fall off. Communities will be transformed. Believes will be empowered. New leaders will come out of the woodwork. Without building another building or hiring another staff member, we can change the world.
Thanks to all of you who’ve allowed me to play in your sandbox and have taken this work seriously. You and your church will never be the same.