After working with P&G and PNC Financial Corp., Dr. Bill Donahue pastored in churches in Pennsylvania and Texas. He then joined the Willow Creek Community Church & Association (aka Global Leadership Network) for 18 years as Director of Group Life and Leadership, training leaders in the US and globally.
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.
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?
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.
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