Ministry is more decentralized than ever. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But, many of the things you typically count on to monitor the health and activity of small groups aren’t functioning at their optimal level. How can you know what’s going on with your groups when your “dashboard” has short circuited?
Don’t Just Hope It Works.
If you launched a lot of new online groups in the last year or moved your established groups online, then your reporting system is probably not functioning quite as well as you’d like. But, if you are depending on a report to know what’s going on in your groups, you’re already in the weeds.
In-person leader meetings aren’t happening and online leader training is poorly attended. While it’s great to see everyone’s face, meetings are okay at dispensing information, but you still don’t know what’s going on in your groups.
Some have basically given up. They are hoping that one way or another, groups will survive the pandemic and come out okay. The truth is what you don’t know will hurt you.
Where Do Online Groups Need Help?
Your group leaders are facing issues they’ve never faced before. The stress of the global pandemic, social isolation, economic uncertainty, and political chaos has taken a toll. Overall mental health is precarious. Your group leaders may or may not be equipped to handle what they’re facing.
The sheer numbers of issues coming up among your people are too much for you to manage alone. You need a level of leadership between you and your leaders. This doesn’t mean becoming aloof to your leaders’ needs. It means that you have very quickly become stretched too thin. It’s time to bring in the reinforcements! Which of your established leaders could help you carry the load and care for your group leaders?
What’s the Next Step for Your Online Groups?
Where are you leading your online groups? Are they just a stop-gap until the pandemic ends? There is more potential in your temporary, online groups that you realize.
If people have stepped forward to lead a short-term online group with their friends, they have essentially self-identified as a potential group leader. If they are leading an egroup, book group, or something else that you’ve come up with, then give them the next step into small group leadership. But, don’t make the step too big. (If you haven’t launched short-term online groups, then start promoting now and launch “egroups” for the 30 days prior to Easter, which is the Lenten season.)
As I talk to pastors every day, churches and small groups are faced with very different restrictions and regulations depending on their region of the country. Even if churches and groups aren’t limited in meeting, some of your members may be avoiding physical contact out of an abundance of caution. People need connection and conversation. Use this season to experiment. Tell them you’re only doing this “because of COVID.” For every group that is divided over meeting in-person or online, start two groups. Then, give them a next step.
Give the group a study or a sermon discussion guide to use after Easter. Most short-term groups disband because they aren’t invited to continue. (That isn’t rocket science, but it sure took a long time for some of us to figure out.)
The link to successfully getting new groups launched and to help them continue is a coach who will encourage and instruct the leaders as they need help. You can’t host the meetings you used to. You can’t personally check in on dozens or hundreds of new leaders. You can’t write off these short-term groups and hope things get back to normal.
You have an amazing opportunity to grow your small group ministry in ways you’ve only dreamed of. Many of the other ministries in your church which might have competed for the same leaders and group members have been postponed or shut down. Nothing has cleared the deck of church activities like COVID. This is your opportunity. Assess your established leaders to recruit coaches. Ask your senior pastor to promote “egroups.” Then, buckle up!
Believe it or not, it’s harder to get people to show up in online groups than in-person groups. Are you seeing this? We explored the problem in a post a few weeks ago: Why are People Ghosting Online Small Groups? But, what’s the solution?
It’s not as difficult to get people to online small groups as you might think. Those who are successfully connecting people in online groups are using the active recruiting strategies I talk about in this video I created for the recent Success with Groups Online conference.
How are you faring with online small groups? How is your group launch going? If you have found something that works, or if your struggling in this unusual ministry season, please leave your comment below.
Would you regard 2020 as a year of opportunity? It feels more like a year of loss and disruption. How can we see a blessing in something that feels like a curse?
Children have lost close contact with their classmates. Adults have lost the feeling of getting ready to go to work in the morning. Parents have lost their sanity. Believers have lost their ability to gather in-person in some places. People have lost their jobs and lost income. As a society we’ve lost the sense of safety. We’ve lost the carefree ability to do anything we want whenever we want. We’ve also lost the notion that racism is not our problem. People have experienced a great deal of loss. You’ve lost too. Yet, there is something quite hopeful about 2020.
Back in the 80’s I attended a church growth workshop with Dr. Elmer Towns in Kansas City. The main crux of his talk was that people are open to change in periods of transition. When people graduate from high school, college, or grad school, they are open to change. When people get married, have a baby, change careers, or move to a new city, they are open to change. When people go through a divorce, become widowed, or retire, they are open to change. Dr. Towns encouraged us to figure out ways to connect with people during these times of transition and disruption in their lives. Do you see the gift of 2020? Everyone’s lives have been disrupted in some way.
All of this disruption – as painful and scary as it’s been – has made people ripe for the Gospel. Nothing in their lives is working exactly the way it used to work. Everyone has transitioned from the life they were used to, and the fact of the matter is that they will never see that life again. Some say the effects of Coronavirus on health and the economy will have implications for five years or more. People are ready for a change. You have the answer. But, if people weren’t going to church before COVID-19, why would they risk going now?
Finding the Solution in an Accident
On April 11, 1970, three brave astronauts launched into space aboard Apollo 13. Not long into their mission an accident caused damage to the capsule which compromised the ship’s cabin which began to fill with carbon monoxide. The astronauts wouldn’t make it back to earth. Engineers met in a conference room at mission control. In the movie with Tom Hanks, one of the engineers dramatically spills a box of supplies on the conference table and announces, “This is everything the astronauts have in the capsule. We have to figure out how to build the CO2 filter out of this.” They got to work. Using only what was available to the astronauts, the engineers created a CO2 filter. The astronauts arrived back to earth alive.
You as a pastor don’t have all of your normal resources at your disposal. While the church relied heavily on the weekend worship service to do more than it was capable of doing, quarantine quickly revealed that the church had to be more than a weekend service or a building. What do you have to work with? If you took the resources of your members’ lives and dumped them out on a conference table like those engineers from Apollo 13, what do they have at their disposal?
Most have a computer, a smartphone, social media, email, text messages, phones, pen and paper, and maybe a little time on their hands (maybe not). How can your church reach people whose lives have been disrupted and frankly are more than a little scared? (HINT: It’s not what most Christians are doing on Facebook and Twitter right now).
Reaching Your Community Digitally
How can you and your church staff equip your members to spread hope amid all of this disruption? Here are a few thoughts for you to bat around:
Create social media and email invitations to online services.
Offer Instagram and Pinterest posts with encouraging Bible verses or quotes from the sermon.
Write sermon discussion questions so anyone can invite their Facebook friends into a Facebook group.
Put your membership process or Growth Track online.
Offer online on-demand training to equip people to serve.
Encourage your members to find a need and fill it.
Encourage members to offer their experience from online school or homeschooling to parents who are new at it.
Offer support groups online – Celebrate Recovery, DivorceCare, GriefShare. Substance abuse and pornography use are at an all-time high.
Offer online budgeting classes, marriage seminars, parenting courses, and stress management workshops to invite the community.
Ask your members to record a short version of their testimony. Share these in your church’s social media and website.
Create interactive online experiences – Bible studies that are a discussion rather than a lecture. Use Facebook Live and respond to the comments and questions.
Don’t waste the opportunity of 2020. Don’t sit around waiting for things to get back to normal. Normal is gone. Normal isn’t coming back. Embrace the disruption of 2020. The field is plowed. It’s time to plant.
Click here for a replay of webinar on digital ministry with Phil Cooke. Phil is a PhD in Theology, a filmmaker, author, and media producer. His skill set is unique, and he has much to share with the church on getting the message of the Gospel out and maximizing your influence.
Tell me what your church is using to connect with lost people. Please share your comments below.
Regathering for worship services and for small groups is proving in many ways to be more difficult than going online was in the first place. I recently met with a gathering of small group pastors from across North America to talk about what they are facing in terms of government regulations, church directives, and individual willingness to gather in-person and online. Here are the big ideas from that conversation.
Let people use the platforms they are familiar with and invite people they already know.
Every online group doesn’t need to meet on Zoom. There are many other platforms to host live and asynchronous online groups meetings. By encouraging people to use platforms they are familiar with like Facebook Groups, Google Meets, or even Slack and group texts, they will feel more comfortable with the concept of online groups. If they will invite people they know to join the online groups, chances are more people will show up. There is a very real dynamic of people ghosting online small groups. If people form groups on the platforms they know with people they know, the rate of ghosting online groups goes way down. But, even better, online groups offer the opportunity to include people who are far from God spiritually and people who are far from the group leader geographically.
Let kids get back into school BEFORE you start groups.
School districts are all over the map with their approach to the 2020-2021 school year. Some schools are online only. Others are in-person only. And, other schools are alternating on-campus and online days. Some are even varying the approach to school depending on the latest Coronoavirus statistics. It’s confusing. In my house, our three students (elementary, middle school, and high school) are all doing online school in different schools! It’s been a learning curve. If you can delay your small group startup until after the dust settles with the start of school, you will be better off.
Encourage the senior pastor to promote online groups.
In the middle of the summer, in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of racial tensions and political chaos, Rock Church in San Diego started 119 new online book groups in July 2020. The senior pastor, Miles McPherson, invited people to gather their friends to discuss a relevant topic with an easy-to-use format to start groups. Mark Richardson, Small Group Pastor, lead the implementation of Pastor Miles’ invitation by offering training and support to these new group leaders as they launched their groups. You can read the full case study about Rock Church here.
Give groups guidelines for meeting in person, but let them make their own decisions about how to meet.
The church should offer some sort of written guidelines for regathering amid the pandemic. This helps people feel safer about meeting in-person, if they’re willing, and it covers any liability for the church. The bottom line is that the church shouldn’t dictate to the groups what to do. If they want to meet online, then meet online. If they want to meet in-person, then meet in-person. If they want to do both, or as someone have called these phygital groups (physical and digital), then do that. The main thing is for the group to be in agreement about what to do. For a group agreement exercise, click here.
Biggest Thought: “What COVID gave me was an excuse to multiply groups.”
This pastor’s town/state was limiting the size of in-person gatherings in homes. No more than eight non-family members could meet in a home, so every group became two groups! The idea of churches splitting, multiplying, or “birthing” is not a very popular idea in North America. As much as pastor try to use another word for “dividing,” with the way it feels, you might as well call it getting a small group divorce! The idea finds resistence in most groups. But, if the circumstance called for smaller groups, then rather than waiting until the whole group could meet together again, why not use this to multiply your groups? If you see this as an opportunity for every small group in your church to become two groups, wouldn’t you jump on that?
These are strange times for the church. Regathering for worship has been in fits and starts. Some churches who reopened in May 2020 are now reclosing in September 2020 due to new outbreaks of Coronavirus. But, the weekend worship service is only one dimension of the church. This is a time to decentralize, because the church has been forced to. But, it’s not the first time the church was forced to decentralize.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus told the disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (NIV). Do you know when the church became Jesus’ witnesses in Judea and Samaria? The initial fulfillment of Acts 1:8 is found in Acts 8:1, “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” The church didn’t enter Judea and Samaria because of a strategic plan or based on their vision and values statement. They were forced into their calling because of persecution. In 2020, the church was forced into a situation.
How are you going to make the most of this opportunity? Comment below.