How Groups Can Overcome Politics and Stay On Mission

How Groups Can Overcome Politics and Stay On Mission

If you would prefer to LISTEN to this post, click here.

The political landscape is more polarized than it’s ever been (and it’s never been great). You don’t have to look too far before you find memes or yard signs that either strongly agree or strongly disagree with your own political position. But, how can you love your neighbor/enemy in this day and age? How do you reach people who are far from God and post an oppositional meme? What if they show up in your small group?

The challenge is to reach people with the truth of God’s word by putting politics aside. If your politics get in the way of your witness, then your politics are more important than they should be. Your concerned about political causes should be the same as Jesus’ concern. In my read of the Gospels, Jesus didn’t have much concerned for political causes. He stayed on mission regardless of the political situation.

You have a right to vote your conscience. You have a right to hold a political opinion. But, when does politics cloud the church’s mission? Here are some ideas about how groups can draw in people with opposing views and make disciples amid a hostile political environment.

Choose Relevant Study Topics.

Your study choices should connect with people’s felt needs. What are people experiencing right now? Many are facing stress and anxiety at unprecedented levels. Between the coming recession, rapid societal and cultural change, and the stress of life, many people are at their brink. Bible studies like Get Out of Your Head by Jennie Allen, Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat at the Table by Louie Giglio, Rhythms of Renewal by Rebecca Lyons, and so many others to help people overcome their stress and anxiety. People are dealing with many relevant issues these days like improving their marriages, becoming better parents, find their purpose in life, and discerning what’s ahead.

By inviting friends and neighbors to a Bible study based on a relevant topic, every person in your church can reach people who are far from God and point them to the Truth. They don’t have to agree on everything. Besides, what small group actually agrees on everything anyway? By connecting with people and supporting them in overcoming practical issues in their lives, groups can break through some of the barriers that politics creates.

Stick to Jesus and What the Bible has to Say.

Over the centuries, the Church has faced a lot. Whether the church thrived with a favorable government or thrived with a hostile government, the Church has continued to thrive. But, all along the way the truth of God’s Word has held true. Jesus remains on the throne. God is a big boy. He can take care of Himself.

Once you’ve chosen a relevant study for your groups or have allowed them to choose the study based on the needs of their friends, then groups should stick to what the Bible says and avoid controversial issues. The goal is to win souls for eternity not to win the next election.

By creating an environment to accept people where they are, the group can show the newcomers the love of Christ. Jesus is very attractive. Political agendas are not. By breaking down barriers to invite others in, the Holy Spirit will do His work in their hearts just like He does in yours. This doesn’t mean that people will change overnight. This also doesn’t mean that you have to be in agreement with their political views or lifestyle choices. As the saying goes, “You catch them. God will clean them.”

Show God’s Love in Practical Ways.

What are the needs you see around you? How can your group help your neighbors? After all, Jesus boiled down all 613 commandments in Scripture to just two: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). How can you love your neighbor as yourself?

First, get to know your neighbors. I’ve made it a personal challenge over the years to find something in common with everyone I meet. Now with some folks that’s more challenging than others. Sometimes though I’m surprised that I have a lot in common with someone I thought I would have nothing in common with.

Start with your neighbors’ names. If they’re just moving in, walk over and unload something from the moving truck, introduce yourself, and either continue helping or move on if you need to. Now, if you’ve lived in your neighborhood for a while and there’s a neighbor you haven’t met, then walk next door with some cookies, knock on the door, and say, “I’m a little embarrassed that we’ve lived here for so long, yet you and I have never met.” They’re probably embarrassed too.

Pray for Your Neighbors.

If you’ve met your neighbors, then pray for them by name. Pray for their lives to be blessed. Pray for openness to hear about Jesus. Pray for any needs that you are aware of. If you haven’t met your neighbors, then pray for an opportunity to meet them. The power of prayer is much greater than the power of Facebook.

Help Your Neighbors.

Do your neighbors have a practical need? Make yourself available. If it’s a big job, then invite your whole small group. Whether your neighbor needs some work done around their house or needs a night of fun, include them. People are lonely. As my wife once said, “People have more ways to connect than they’ve had, yet they are more disconnected than they’ve ever been.” Facebook and other social media provide pseudo-relationships, but lack the real personal connections that people need. By opening up and including others, you and your group are taking the first step in helping people find Jesus.

Think About This

Pastor Jonathan Hansen from Hills Church in El Dorado Hills, California recently told me, “Most Christians are only one yard sign away from destroying their witness.” How can you introduced people to Jesus when your politics keep getting in the way? Winning somebody to your political point of view is not nearly as important as winning someone to Christ. The change of a nation starts with the change of the hearts of individuals. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). This should still be our mission. When it comes to politics, as Larry Osborne said recently on the Exponential Groups Podcast: “Your church (or your group) should be Switzerland.”

Are Your Groups Competing with Each Other?

Are Your Groups Competing with Each Other?

Listen to this Blog Post instead on the Healthy Groups Podcast.

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:

What is a Group at Your Church?

First, look at what you are calling a small group in your church. What is the group’s purpose? How often do they meet? What do they do? What is the group’s size? Things like that. (For a complete exercise on defining your groups, go to here).

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.

For those who don’t fit in either of those categories, there are ways to connect them into groups without resorting to sign up cards or websites. Passive recruiting methods don’t work anyway.

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.

Dominate with Groups in 2020

Dominate with Groups in 2020

What are your church’s priorities? For many churches big priorities point to big events – weekend worship services, conferences, and outreach events. While all of these things have their place, do they deserve all of the attention they get? Imagine if small groups and disciple-making were front and center for once instead of lingering on the backburner somewhere.

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

Jesus commanded us to “go and make disciples.” Disciples aren’t made overnight. Discipleship is not a process or a program. Making disciples requires a person. After all, disciples make disciples. If disciples could be mass produced then services and seminars would be adequate to do the job. Clearly, they don’t.

What if everything in your church revolved around small groups instead? When our church in California reached a place where 125% of our weekly worship attendance was connected into groups, priorities shifted for our staff. As far as discipleship went, the tail was no longer wagging the dog.

How can small groups rise to the top? First, you don’t have to tear everything else down to raise the value to groups and disciple-making. This is not a matter of demolishing a church’s ministry to rebuild it. No one can afford to do that. This is more the scenario of re-engineering the airplane while it’s flying. It requires more nuance. By recognizing the opportunities and creating the right alliances, small groups could dominate your church in 2020.

Partner with Your Senior Pastor.

Why are the senior pastors so invested in the weekend service? First, pastors put their hearts and souls into creating a sermon. If you’ve preached, you know that time and energy it takes. One pastor said that it was like having a term paper due every week.

Another reason pastors are invested in worship services is because a large portion of the church attend. It’s a good feeling to speak to a packed house. Over the years, I’ve spoken to as few as 11 people and as many as 5,000 in a single day. The bigger, the better, right?

Lastly, preaching a sermon produces immediate results. Pastors tell jokes, and they get a laugh. They hit a point hard, and they get a response. Some will shout, “Amen!” Others might become very quiet. Then, in many churches at the end of the service there is a response at the altar. While approval is not the goal, a response is certainly reassuring.

While there are other reasons for pastors to devote themselves to worship services, think about these three things: (1) pouring their hearts and souls into teaching, (2) reaching many people, and (3) receiving a response. Small groups can do this too and even at a larger scale. By putting the pastors teaching on video, an audience larger than the weekend service will be reached. All of the hard work of sermon prep doesn’t end up in a file folder, it lives on in living rooms and breakrooms and board rooms around town.

Getting the response is up to the small group pastor. Collect stories of what God is doing in groups. Let the pastor know the impact the video teaching in groups is making. If senior pastors could reach larger audiences every week wouldn’t they be interested. Your small groups will connect your congregation, but will also include many people from the community who have never darkened the door of your church. In fact, according to Rick Warren, there is a trend of people coming to a small group first, then attending a weekend service with their groups. By partnering with senior pastors, their goals will be reach and so will yours.

Create a Next Step for Every Church Event.

Do marriage conferences improve marriages? They could. They also might accelerate conflict. Do sermons make disciples. I’ve already answered that here. Do men’s retreat make better men? They could, but as Randy Phillips, the former president of Promise Keepers says, “The failure of Promise Keepers was not offering a next step after the conferences.” Essentially Promise Keepers became promise breakers. While services and events are not the be-all end-all of life change, they can be a start. They can inspire commitment, but it’s not over and done. As Marcus Buckingham said, “The problem with people is they are just never done.”

Change is difficult. People fall into patterns of behavior that they’ve learned over the years. Marriages fall into patterns. Work relationships fall into patterns. We commonly refer to this as getting into a rut. It’s hard to get out. Change is difficult.

We know how to lose weight, but we don’t. We know how to get out of debt, but we’re still in debt. The list could go on, but we will stick with my problems for now. When I lose weight, it requires focused effort. I need accountability. I have to set a goal and make steps toward that goal. I could listen to someone talk about weight loss and be inspired. I could even watch exercise videos and still not lose a pound. Now before this gets silly, this is also true for every other change a person is trying to make.

Every change starts with a commitment. A conference, a retreat, or a worship service is a great place to make a commitment. But, commitments are forgotten without a next step and others to support you. If your church hosts a marriage conference, what’s the next step? Does the speaker have a book or curriculum? If not, what resources are available? Start groups during the conference. If your church has a men’s retreat, use the opportunity to form groups at the retreat before the guys come home. Have the study and the day and time of the first meeting in place before they resume their regular schedule. And, for the sermon, help your members take their weekend into their week by producing a sermon discussion guide or an alignment series.

Events can start something, but they cannot create lasting change. Small groups can complement events and give people what they need to achieve the growth they desire. Every event in your church should be a launching pad for small groups.

Make “Small Groups” the Answer to Every Problem.

What is your senior pastor’s biggest concern for your church?

More Leaders? Small Groups are a leadership development engine.

Better Attendance? People in groups are more committed than people who are not in groups.

More Serving? People in groups serve more than people who aren’t in groups.

Better Giving? People in groups, on average, give 4% more of their income than people not in groups.

More Growth? People in groups are more focused on growth than people not in groups.

Better Outreach? People in groups reach others for Christ more often than people not in groups.

Your pastor’s major concerns are all addressed in small groups. These thoughts are not merely anecdotal. Look at the research by Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger in Transformational Groups and Princeton professor Robert Wuthnow in Sharing the Journey. Research shows that people in groups are the most motivated and most active members of the church. (For a synopsis of this research: The Senior Pastors Guide to Groups). If you want more of “all of the above,” you need to connect more people into groups.

So, Why Aren’t Senior Pastors the Most Excited About Groups?

  1. They may not know the value of groups. The senior pastor role today is more like a CEO. There’s a lot on your pastor’s plate. That’s why you were hired to take care of groups and discipleship. Yet unless you engage your senior pastor, discipleship will continue to linger in obscurity in your church. Help your pastor see the benefits of groups. Zig Ziglar once said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” Find every possible way to align groups with where your pastor is headed or what concerns your pastor the most.

2. Most seminarians don’t learn about groups. I earned a Master of Divinity in Christian Education and did not hear one lecture on small groups. If pastors’ degrees are in pastoral ministry, biblical studies, counseling, or theology, they didn’t learn about small groups either. You have to educate your pastor about small groups and the key role they should play in the church. Point to outstanding models of churches with groups like North Point Ministries, Saddleback Church, North Coast Church, and many others. Start a staff small group. Tell the stories of what God is doing in your groups.

3. Senior pastors may be resistant to groups because their small group pastors have become adversarial. One small group pastor complained to me, “I just can’t get my pastor on board with small groups.” I told him that he didn’t need to get his pastor on board. It was the pastor’s boat! The small group pastor needed to get on board with where the senior pastor was headed and include groups with it. The senior pastor has the responsibility to hear from God and give direction to the church. Follow that direction and add groups to the strategy.

No one should feel more strongly about small groups in your church than you. You should be the most passionate person when it comes to groups. Don’t allow your passion to spill over into anger. But, have small groups on the brain! The answer to every question your senior pastor or your team asks should be, “Small Groups.” As you partner with your senior pastor and others, you can dominate with groups in 2020.

4 Movements I’m Watching in Small Group Ministry

4 Movements I’m Watching in Small Group Ministry

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.

1. Rooted

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

2. Neighboring

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
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