The One Strategic Move that Will Keep Groups Going

The One Strategic Move that Will Keep Groups Going

Have you worked hard to launch groups only to see them disappear after a church-wide series or semester? I heard of a church once who launched their entire small group ministry from a campaign. They didn’t have any groups when they started, and then hey recruited 233 groups for the series. When the campaign ended, they only had three groups that continued. This situation can and should be avoided.

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

For some reason when we invite people to lead a group for a six week study, they get this crazy idea that once the six weeks is over, they’re done. Where would they get an idea like this? The same is true for a semester-based groups. Where are they headed in the next semester?

If you haven’t decided what’s next for your groups, then prepare yourself for a hard landing. Otherwise the celebration of new groups at the conclusion of a series will end with a deafening thud, unless you’re prepared for what’s next. Next year, you’ll be right back at re-recruiting leaders and re-forming groups just like you did this year. It’s not good for the groups or for you!

You see all of this grouping, de-grouping, and regrouping is really an exercise in futility. It produces an effect I refer to as Ground Hog Day after the namesake movie starring Bill Murray. If people are already meeting together and they like each other, then we should encourage them to continue, not break up.

Now a few folks who signed up to lead for a literal six weeks will object: “This is like bait and switch.” My response is something like, “That’s because this IS bait and switch. Do you like meeting together? Then, continue. If you don’t like meeting together, then go ahead and end the group this week. Life is too short to be stuck in a bad group.” If they really can’t continue with the group, then ask if a group member could take over leading.

If the middle of your current series or semester, introduce a next step. Whether the next step is an off-the-shelf curriculum you purchase, a church-wide study in the season or semester, or a weekly sermon discussion guide, invite your new groups, especially, to pursue one specific next step. Don’t offer 12 different choices to new groups. The decision you want them to make is whether the group will continue, not what they will study. Established groups can follow what you’ve set in place for a curriculum pathway or library. Established groups need choices. New groups won’t have an opinion, so choose for them.

Before the groups disband at the end of the current series or semester, ask the group to decide about continuing. If you wait until after the study ends, then you have a much lower chance of getting the group back together for the future.

With the Christmas season upon us or when Summer hits, have groups focus on group life rather than group meetings. The new series might not start until January or October, but the group can meet socially, have a party and invite prospective group members, or serve together. Then, in the next series or study, they can continue their regular pattern of meeting. If the group insists on doing a Bible study between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day or over the Summer, then encourage it. Most groups will not take this option, but a few might.

You can avoid the disaster of Day 41 after a 40-day campaign. You can avoid experiencing Groundhog Day for your next series or semester. By offering a next step now, you can retain more groups, then build on what you’ve accomplished in your groups’ launch.


Allen White helps Take the Guesswork Out of Groups. We offer booksonline coursescoaching groups, consulting, and curriculum writing and production.

The True Size of Your Church

The True Size of Your Church

Most pastors realize their church’s Easter attendance is a better indicator of the church’s true size than its weekly attendance. Albeit there are a significant number of visitors on Easter Sunday, the reality is many of these visitors are not visiting. This is their church. They don’t attend another church. They claim yours.

In his new book, Connect: How to Grow Your Church in 28 Days-Guaranteed, Don Corder writes, “On any given Sunday, eighty percent are regular attendees and twenty percent are non-regular attendees” (p. 30). He goes on to explain that the 80 percent attend about 33 times per year, while the 20 percent of non-regular attendees are there only 2.4 times per year based on researching The Provisum Group’s database of church clients. What does this mean?

An Attendance of 100 is Really More Like 559.

A church of 100 people is really made up of 559 people. By Corder’s calculation, 126 people attend 33 times per year on average, while another 433 make up the other 20 percent of weekly worship attendance. So, how many people actually attend your church?

If your church averages 1,000 people on the weekend, then your actual attendee number is somewhere around 5,590. By the same calculation used above, 1,260 of your people attend about 33 times per year, while another 4,333 attend about 2.4 times per year. If you have any doubts, look at the total number of records in your church’s database. It’s not so farfetched, is it?

What Does This Mean for Discipleship?

Often the measuring stick for groups is compared group membership to the weekend attendance. If you’re in a church of 500 and have 250 people in groups, then you could claim that 50 percent of your people are connected into groups. But, that’s not realistic in light of this new calculation.

A worship attendance of 500 really represents 2,167 people who attend your church over the course of the year. If you have 250 people in groups, you actually have about 12 percent of your people in groups. Well, you weren’t supposed to be proud of numbers anyway, right?

The church’s mission is to “go and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:18-20). Sermons don’t make disciples. How do you engage the 77.46% of your congregation who only attends an average of 2.4 times per year?

Get Them While They’re There.

What are your church’s peak worship services of the year? Christmas and Easter, right? The first pastor I served would often say in Easter services, “Well, if I don’t see you for a while, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas” and the reverse at Christmas. Rather than ridicule your infrequent attendees, why not invite them to something?

A pastor’s immediate reaction is “But, it’s impossible to get any airtime on Easter Sunday (or Christmas)…” That’s true. And, it’s okay. If you could get airtime in the worship service, that would be great. But, what’s more important than airtime is a plan.

Make a Plan to Connect Your Infrequent Attendees.

Your infrequent attendees took a step to attend a service. You just need to give them another step. What are their needs? Where do they need help? What issues in their lives do they need answers to? If they checked their children into your children’s ministry on Easter, then a parenting group which is appropriate to their stage of parenting might be of interest. Are they married or single? How far do they live from the church? Is there a small group in their neighborhood? What groups could you promote to these folks? As long as you have their contact information, you can promote a group that meets their needs. Or, better yet, a group leader could call and invite a few to their group. Better still, a person who knows an infrequent attendee could call and invite them to a group (or start a group).

It doesn’t matter if an announcement wasn’t made in the service or didn’t appeared in the bulletin on Easter Sunday. For most parents, their children have overdone the sugar and just want to get home. They’re not thinking of signing up for a group on Easter or Christmas anyway. But, since they’ve just attended a recent service, the church is on their mind. Then, when they receive an invitation by email or a phone call from a warm, friendly group leader, they might be open to join a group.

While You Have Their Email Addresses…

Remember, infrequent attendees are only coming to your church for the most part. They may not attend very often, but they aren’t going anywhere else. If you invite them to a group launch or connection event, they just might join a group.

Many pastors look at that overly bloated part of the church database and wonder why they keep all of those records anyway. Many folks don’t appear to attend much or give anything, so why not purge the database? Don’t purge the database. These folks are familiar with your church. They are more likely to attend a service or join a group than people who have never attended. Invite them to your next connection event. Use the Summer for groups to host open houses and invite infrequent attendees who live in their neighborhoods.

How Many People Actually Attend YOUR Church?

If you want to make the calculation for yourself, then you’ll need to check out Don Corder’s book, Connect: How to Grow Your Church in 28 Days-Guaranteed . In the meantime, don’t write off your infrequent attendees. They need to join groups and be discipled too.

Don’t rest on your laurels. Your connection percentage just got blown out of the water. Start thinking about turning every group member into a group leader (or every church member into a group leader). The harvest is plentiful. The workers are few.

Allen White helps Take the Guesswork Out of Groups. We offer booksonline coursescoaching groups, and consulting.

What’s Next Will Determine What Lasts

What’s Next Will Determine What Lasts

By Allen White 46-next-step
If you haven’t decided what’s next for your groups, then prepare yourself for a hard landing. This is the time of the year where the celebration of new groups ends with a deafening thud, unless you’re prepared for what’s next.
For some reason when we invite people to lead a group for a six week study, they get this crazy idea that once the six weeks is over, they’re done. Where would they get an idea like this? The same is true for a semester-based groups. Where are they headed in the next semester?
You see all of this grouping, de-grouping, and regrouping is really an exercise in futility. It produces an effect I refer to as Ground Hog Day after the namesake movie starring Bill Murray. If people are already meeting together and they like each other, then we should encourage them to continue, not break up.
Now a few folks who signed up to lead for a literal six weeks will object: “This is like bait and switch.” My response is something like, “That’s because this IS bait and switch. Do you like meeting together? Then, continue. If you don’t like meeting together, then go ahead and end the group this week. Life is too short to be stuck in a bad group.” If they really can’t continue with the group, then ask if a group member could take over leading.
If your groups are still in your Fall series or semester, then introduce a next step right now. Whether the next step is an off-the-shelf curriculum you purchase, a church-wide study in the new year, or a weekly sermon discussion guide, invite your new groups, especially, to pursue one next step. Don’t offer 12 different choices to new groups. The decision you want them to make right now is whether the group will continue, not what they will study. Established groups can follow what you’re set in place for a curriculum pathway or library. Established groups need choices. New groups won’t have an opinion, so choose for them.
Before the group disbands at the end of the current series or semester, ask the group to decide about continuing. If you wait until after the study ends, then you have a much lower chance of getting the group back together for the future.
With the Christmas season upon us, have groups focus on group life rather than group meetings. The new series might not start until January, but the group can meet socially, have a Christmas party and invite prospective group members, or serve together. Then, in January, they can continue their regular pattern of meeting. If the group insists on doing a Bible study between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, then encourage it. Most groups will not take this option, but a few might.
You can avoid the disaster of Day 41. You can avoid experiencing Groundhog Day for your next series or semester. By offering a next step now, you can retain more groups, then build on what you’ve accomplished this Fall.

Your Campaign Launched, but Day 41 is Coming

Your Campaign Launched, but Day 41 is Coming

By Allen White 
A lot of great things can happen during a 40 Day church-wide campaign, then comes Day 41. If you’ve just launched groups in the last few weeks, it’s time to think about what’s next.
Several years ago a small group pastor joined our coaching program. He had gone from having no small groups in his church to actually launching 233 groups for a 40 day church-wide campaign. At the end of the campaign, when it was all said and done, he ended up with three groups. What a heartbreak!
Over the years, in the laboratory of hundreds of churches across the country, we’ve learned a few things about keeping the momentum going and helping to sustain groups for the long haul.
1.       Groups Need a Next Step.
Most new groups do not have an opinion of what they want to study next. How many times has a new group leader presented a selection of curriculum to the group only to hear, “They all look good. Why don’t you pick one.” Happens almost every time.
Of course, the other issue here is the fact you invited folks to join a group for six weeks and not for the rest of their lives. For some strange reason, once the six weeks ends, they feel like their commitment is up – because it is.
We launched groups at our church in California for the first time in the Spring. Our fear wasn’t just Day 41, but also days 42-96. It was a high hurdle over the summer. We gathered the new leaders mid-way through the Spring study and invited them to join our next series which began on the second Sunday of October. Then, we held our breath. It’s a long stretch from mid-May to mid-October. October held a big surprise.
When we gathered groups in the Fall to give them a sneak peek at the Fall curriculum, 80 percent of the groups who started in the Spring were right there to join the Fall study. You could have knocked me over with a feather. By giving the groups a next step, even a huge step over four months, is key to helping groups sustain. If I hadn’t experienced this first hand, honestly, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Wendy Nolasco, Small Group Pastor at New Life Center, Bakersfield, California, found a similar result. After successfully launching 100 groups in the Spring, they gave their groups a heads up on their Fall campaign and then said a prayer. This Fall 75 of those groups are continuing into the next step Pastor Wendy gave them.
If you are in a Fall or New Year’s campaign, the next step is not quite so daunting. They don’t need to wait three months for another study. They can start a new study the following week. Once a group does two back to back six week studies, usually they are good to continue from that point forward.
2.       Give Your New Groups One Specific Next Step
If you send your new group leaders to the internet or the local bookstore, they will get lost in the plethora of selections. In fact, it will take them so long to make a decision, more than likely the group will falter before they can choose their next step.
If you started the group with a video-based curriculum, then the next step should involve a video as well. Again, if you invited folks to form groups with the idea that they didn’t have to be a Bible scholar, because the expert was on the video, they will need that strategy again. Whether the next series aligns with the Sunday sermons or not, a specific next step will take them past Day 41 and into a longer group life.
Now, you may ask, “How long can groups continue with video-based curriculum?”
Carl George put it this way, “As long as there are DVDs.”
3.       A New Study is a Great Time to Recruit New People to Your Group.
The beginning of a study is a natural time to invite new members into a group. The group could host an open house or a barbecue to invite some friends and neighbors who might be interested in joining the group. Everyone likes to start on the ground floor. A new study certainly provides that opportunity.
4.      If the Host Can’t Continue…
Well, you could go the guilt route: “If you love Jesus and want to go to Heaven…” But, I wouldn’t recommend that.
If the hosts legitimately cannot continue, they are probably not considering other possibilities for the group to continue. they think if they can’t go on, then the group can’t either. But, that’s not necessarily true.
When a host informs you around Day 24 of your current campaign that they won’t be able to continue with the group, have their coach begin to investigate whether another member of the group would like to step up and host the group. If the group has been rotating leadership during the study, someone may very easily take over leadership of the group so the group can continue.
Oh, and how do you get your hosts to state their intentions around Day 24 or so? You ask them. I’ve used both a mid-campaign survey as well as a mid-campaign host huddle to determine who is interested in continuing and who isn’t. Before I walk into the huddle meeting, I like to know what to expect. Often I will send the mid-campaign survey first. It serves as what John Maxwell calls the “meeting before the meeting.” Then, when you walk into the room, you know who plans to continue and who needs to be given some options for their group to continue.
All in all, Day 41 is just the beginning of group life. With the right encouragement and next steps, groups who started to only complete a six week study, can find themselves enjoying quality group life for many studies to come.

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