The Next Frontier of Small Groups

The Next Frontier of Small Groups

Covid forced every church online. This was both a great inconvenience and a great opportunity. To be honest, some churches have done better than others with their online services. Much of the result depends on the effort the church makes with their online services. For those who merely stream their in-person service, quality is spotty at best. (Take a few minutes to watch your church’s recent online service. You’ll see what I mean.)

Others put in the effort to pre-record their online service, like Pinnacle Church in Canton, NC. They provide a higher quality, direct-to-camera approach for their growing online congregation. Even this smaller congregation with limited equipment is doing a lot of the right things. Regardless of the quality of your online worship service, how are you discipling your online congregation?

Some churches are satisfied with using a multiplier to calculate their online audience based on the number of views. Certainly you want to know that your online service is effectively reaching others. But, your effectiveness online is far more than the number of eyeballs. Jay Kranda, the online campus pastor at Saddleback Church, had much to say about this in our interview earlier this year. Listen here.

Here’s what you know – people are watching online. Some are staying home out of an abundance of caution. Some are watching online because it’s just more convenient for them. Others are participating with your church online for the first time. This is the group I mentioned in last week’s post, Start Leading the Church You Have. Where are you leading them?

The Same Expectations

Prior to 2020, online ministry was a novelty. Then around March 2020, online ministry became a necessity. Today, online ministry is an opportunity.

While almost every church saw online ministry as a necessity during the pandemic, some still treat it like a novelty. They see the real congregation as the in-person audience and view the online congregation as a bit of a play thing. That may seem harsh, but let me ask you this: what do you expect from your online congregation? What are you leading them to do?

Typically, churches will ask their in-person congregation for contact information on their first visit in exchange for a welcome gift. They offer next steps, small groups, and serving opportunities. They expect participation, giving, community, and serving. Your online congregation is not any less than your in-person congregation. They are with you. And, they will take next steps when you offer them.

Engage Your Online Congregation

Online worship services can become passive unless you intentionally engage your online congregation. Some of this is accomplished by speaking direct-to-camera, which usually involves recording a separate online experience. Mere streaming video is not church online. Whether you stream live or pre-record, how you communicate with the online congregation is important.

If you direct your announcements and opportunities only to your in-person attendance, then your online folks won’t pay attention. You’re not talking to them. Make simple adjustments like referring to both your in-person and online congregations when you invite them to take next steps. Or during the announcements for your in-person service, have someone speak direct-to-camera to your online congregation. People will take a next step if you invite them.

Instead of asking them to respond with a card in the pew, ask them to text a word to your dedicated text line (check out Zipwhip) or send them to a dedicated landing page on your website for first time guests, giving, small groups, serving, etc. And, when they reach out, be prepared with a response. This could be a signed letter in the mail or an email sequence. When people contact you, reach out to them ASAP. In fact, you should have your response in place before you make the invitation.

Connecting into Community

Your online congregation might be around the corner, across the country, or on the other side of the world. Community Bible Church, Stockbridge, Georgia, recently baptized a member of their online congregation who flew to Atlanta from her home in New York City. She now has friends in NYC watching Community Bible Church online each week. Whether your church is large or small, by putting your worship service online, you can potentially see a global impact. But, don’t stop there.

While online worship services are a starting point for your online congregation, they are only part of the experience of making disciples. After all, sermons don’t make disciples. Worship services can catalyze a commitment to aspire to godly character, grow in faith, or improve their marriage or parenting skills, but the working out comes in biblical community or hesed. Without other believers encouraging, supporting, and holding each other accountable, lasting growth doesn’t happen. God designed us for community.

With an online congregation, community happens in various forms. Some people will join you in online small groups. These groups can meet by video, audio only, or asynchronously. Use the platforms that are the most familiar to your people. Different platforms will work equally as well for different people. But, don’t stop there.

Give your online congregation permission and opportunity to start their own groups – in-person or online. If people don’t live near the church, they can gather a group of friend just like Community Bible Church’s online member in New York. Whether the group meets in-person or online depends on the comfort level of the person starting the group. The church can support these group leaders by providing easy-to-use curriculum, offering a new leader briefing, and giving the support of a coach. Imagine if every member of your online congregation started his or her own group. Think of the impact.

Thoughts to Ponder

As I mentioned in last week’s post (Stop Leading the Church You Lost), the church you have today is your church. Too much has transpired since March 2020 for your church to just snap back to pre-Covid numbers. And, that’s okay.

For many church as many as 30 percent to 50 percent or more of their regular congregation worship online. You wouldn’t ignore a third of your congregation if they were in your church’s sanctuary, would you? Imagine turning toward the right side of your congregation, but ignoring those seated on the left side. That’s ridiculous. Don’t let this happen with the 30-50 percent who are gathering for worship online.

How will you engage your online congregation? How will you help your online congregation leverage their relationships to form groups either locally or online? Who needs a message of hope? Who needs encouragement? Think about it – the possibilities are endless.

Related Resources

Onlinegroups.us

Leading Online Small Groups: Embracing the Church’s Digital Future

Starting Online Small Groups Course

What’s Working for Groups

What’s Working for Groups

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

When Carey Nieuwhof told the world that just when pastors thought we were ending the marathon of 2020, then 2021 handed us a swimsuit and a bike making this a triathlon. He wasn’t wrong. Clearly things have not snapped back, and it appears that things may never resume 2019 standards and strategies. And, that’s okay.

While many pastors are hyperventilating or quitting these days, you don’t need to. Disciples still need to be made. People still need community. The climate around you has changed, but the mission remains the same. Are you ready to try some things that are working this fall?

 

Flexible Group Formation

All of your groups won’t look the same this fall. That’s okay. Your groups probably shouldn’t have looked the same in the first place. Depending on the impact of Covid on your community, your people will not all feel comfortable doing groups exactly the same way. That’s okay. Offer your people the flexibility to meet in-person, online, or a hybrid of that. They should do what feels comfortable to them with whoever they want, wherever they want, and however they want. Whether they are maskites or anti-maskites, they can find their people and do something intentional about their spiritual growth. Flexibility is the key. For more on starting flexible groups, go here.

Personal Invitation

Inviting leads to thriving in 2021. Leaders who take the initiative to invite people they know who in turn invite people they know are making their groups happen. Leaders who are depending on passive recruitment methods like sign up cards, websites, or group directories are feeling a little like the kid standing along at the junior high dance. (That wasn’t me. Our church forbade dancing).

Going along with the flexible format, leaders can invite their people. Who do they know who would enjoy or benefit from the study? Who do they want to spend time with anyway? This doesn’t need to be complicated. They just need to invite their friends. Who wouldn’t want to spend more time with their friends?

Prayer is a key part of successfully starting a group. Leaders should pray and ask God who He wants to join their group. Then, they should pay attention to who crosses their path. If they run into someone at the grocery store who they haven’t seen for six months, God is answering their prayer. If someone calls “out of the blue,” it’s not a coincidence. If group leaders truly want to start a group, they will take the initiative. Like Home Depot says, “You can do it. We can help.” You don’t need to fill anyone’s group.

Pastor Promotion

If you want people to pay attention to an invitation to start a small group, your pastor should make that announcement. Your pastor will get 3 times the result compared to you standing on the stage saying the exact same words. By virtue of your pastor’s leadership role in the church, you will get the best result. The pastor will do better than you, the campus pastor, the worship pastor, the service host, and the communication director combined. All you need to do is give your pastor a few bullet points, then be prepared to collect the response (HINT: Keep the response close to the invitation) and train your new recruits! This works. I have not personally recruited a small group leader since 2004, and I’ve served three different churches since then!

Adding a Strategy

If you’ve been at small group ministry for a while, your winning strategy has probably starting running out of steam, especially in 2020-2021. Your strategy isn’t broken. It’s just done all that it can do. One size simply doesn’t fit all. But, there’s no rule that you are limited to using just one strategy to connect people into groups.

By simply adding another strategy to what you are currently offering, your church can attract more people into groups than ever before. What does that look like? Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t break it. Offer your established groups to your congregation, then offer a second option like groups following a sermon discussion guide or sermon-aligned study. Many churches are using Rooted. While I’m a big fan of Rooted, it’s only 10 weeks. What do people do who aren’t ready for Rooted or who have already done Rooted (Yes, I know about Life in Rhythm)? Just offer another option. But, isn’t this confusing? (See the next section).

Blended Connection Events

When you have multiple offerings, the key is to promote “groups.” Don’t promote Rooted groups, and D-Groups, and support groups, and sermon-based groups, and, and, and… Just promote groups. When your people come to your connection event, then you can ask what type of group they are interested in. This way you can keep your current groups going and start new groups.

Emphasis on Connection Over Meetings

As you’ve seen not everyone can meet in-person and some groups don’t want to meet online. How do you have groups? Well, we can go back to the philosophical discussion of whether a group is a meeting or is more like a family. (I think “family” wins). Well, what do you do when the whole family can’t show up for a meal? Do you kick the absent members out? Of course not! They’re family.

If group members can’t attend meetings, you’ve got to keep the family together. Your leaders should “own” their group rosters. If someone is on their group roster, even if they rarely attend, they are the leader’s responsibility. Give them a call. Send them a text. Let them know that you care. The group may be the person’s only connection to the church or even to another human right now. These connections are significant. Encourage your leaders to reach out to everybody on their lists.

Think About This

Fall 2021 is a challenging ministry season. Some states are practically under lockdown again. Other states are enjoying their freedom. No matter what type of environment you are ministering in, God is using groups to accomplish His purposes. The numbers may not be what you had before. That’s when you need to count what matters.

This is a tough season, but it’s not the toughest ministry season of all time. Don’t lose heart. Keep making connections. Keep inviting people into community. Keep recruiting new leaders to gather their friends. Move with the movers especially now that so much seems stuck.

What’s working for you and your groups in fall 2021?

5.5 Questions with Jay Kranda, Saddleback’s Online Pastor

5.5 Questions with Jay Kranda, Saddleback’s Online Pastor

Jay Kranda is the guest for the February 2021 episode of the Exponential Groups Podcast. Jay is the online pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, where he oversees an online community with online small groups and home groups around the world. He is the co-author of the free eBooks state of the church online and going beyond online streaming. Jay is addicted to NBA basketball and cold brew coffee. He has a BA in Christian Education and an MA in Theology, both from Biola University, Jay, his wife, Jody have two boys and a girl.

Q1: You have been in online ministry for a long time, and the rest of us just got into online ministry about 10 months ago. How long have you been on staff doing online ministry at Saddleback?

Jay: I just celebrated 10 years on staff and I started off as part-time online. They had a thing at the time called the internet campus and nobody was really doing anything with it. We’re always trying out things and then staff or people change and then you kind of forget, but I was really intrigued on it. When I first started, I came from a church about 500 and at Saddleback there were about 500 people watching every week. I was just kind of amazed by that scope of impact. I started to invest on it. My leader at the time introduced me to like Life.church and a couple other churches to show me what was going on.

The first thing I did is I petitioned to change it from internet campus to online campus. That was the first thing. I felt like internet was like putting “i” in front of everything to match the app. And so, but yeah, so I’ve been there 10 years now. It’s been a journey and it’s looked very different over the seasons of ministry, especially now in COVID, I feel like we’re in another butterfly moment where like, what is the next version of this?

Q2: The scorecard has changed for ministry. Pastors used to track metrics like attendance in the weekend service and giving – “nickels and noses,” but with COVID that has all changed. Now, I hear people talking about online engagement. Some are even taking their number of streams with a multiplier. How do we know we’re being effective, and what’s really happening out there?

Jay: There are all sorts of ways to measure things. What’s key is to figure out the metrics that are important to your church — whatever those things are, a top funnel to deep engagement type of scale. There are things you measure weekly and things you measure monthly. The other thing is you just gotta be consistent on how you measure it so that you can notice trends. Are you going up or going down? And that only happens if you’re consistent. If you’re constantly tweaking your measurements, then the numbers are irrelevant. You could tell me you had a million people this week, but if the next week you had 2 million or you had a hundred thousand, what does that mean? Where are you going? We’ve been measuring our attendance one way for about 10 years. I could tell you weeks that we’re going to be low. I can tell you we’re high. I can tell you why we were high because I was looking at the same numbers every week for about 10 years. And so I think it’s really important.

I would always start with the weekend. How many people viewed it on your website, Facebook, YouTube, or whatever, and then have like a retention number. How many people watch or listen for, you know, 10, 15, 30 minutes? And so compare those. Viewership isn’t the same as watching or reach numbers or impressions. I think that’s why you need both. You have viewership and then you have a deep engagement. What’s hard is in building a worship attendance. You’re not counting how many cars you drive by in front of your church, or you’re not counting how many people peek their heads in. You are counting how many people attended church. And so that number is more than the retention number, but you also can measure all sorts of things and look at correlation between viewership and retention. Like what happens if you start streaming on platforms like YouTube, you can look at the drop rates. How many people skip forward? We were just looking at our data recently and one of the learnings is that a lot of people were skipping the front part just to go to the message. The suggestion came out like maybe we should experiment with not front-loading the music, so people get to the sermon quicker. If people are more likely to hang around afterwards, maybe we put more music on the back end. If you’re looking at the right things regularly, you can make the right dashboard.

Q3: How are you recruiting leaders to do online groups? How are you getting members connected into groups? What does that look like?

Jay: We’re unique in the sense that we definitely have an online community, a true community, that I’m a shepherd over, and we have people who congregate. I would see us as a real church that’s online. And so we want to create, the phrase that gets used a lot, is creating a fourth space for people to connect that’s digital. That’s not a time specific. It’s 24/7. So because of that, we stream our services, but we actually have a community like a Facebook group and different things where people can connect with each other and meet people. I spend a lot of time in those public spaces. And out of that, we’re constantly encouraging people to take our classes and join a group or start a group. We definitely rely yearly on a campaign strategy to get almost of our groups going. Our church aligns on one thing. I would say a good 70% of our group growth in a year comes from a campaign push from our entire church.

We constantly have new groups going. One of our biggest things we use to get new groups going is a large group model where the small group pastor on my team will host quarterly large groups on zoom, where there might be 30 to 50 people on a zoom call. And he’ll use the breakout feature for six to eight weeks. At the end of it, if you had 30 or 50 people, we’ll say, “Hey, you’ve been experimenting and been part of an online group the last six to eight weeks. We’re done with our large group. What if you continue on after this as a small group? We start five to eight groups. That’s a big thing coming out of COVID that we’ve relied on, mainly because as started COVID, we had such a boom of interest in online groups that we didn’t have enough groups open to new people. We spent a lot of time early on refining what we actually launched. We had volunteers and staff, a large online group meeting every day of the week for the first couple months of COVID. When we started, we just had a meeting. We were looking at some of our data. In 2020, our ministry launched 1,007 online groups. We had the infrastructure and we were ready.

Q4: Let’s talk about what works with online groups. What are some best practices? And, we’re also going to to go what hasn’t worked as well.

Jay: It has been a struggle is continuing to figure out how to make accessing small group material easier. A big gap for us right now is that most of our small group material isn’t really accessible on a TV. Like our TV apps don’t talk to our database because we have some custom stuff. So that’s something that we’ve been working on. How do we integrate that? We don’t use an off the shelf, paid service, like, many other churches do. And so I just know like Apple TV, Roku, Amazon fire stuff are so important.

We might have over 2000 groups right now, but that doesn’t mean they’re all at a hundred percent tier. We’re trying to make sure they’re all responsive. So I might have a couple hundred that are red tag where they’re not responsive. I have some that I’m trying to get them to become members. They signed up and they’re not members yet. And then I have some that I’m trying to get to be, to take our leadership training course. And so the question is, why aren’t more people taking their leadership training course? Some of it has to do with access to the course. Some of it has to do availability. Maybe that needs to be a small group curriculum. Maybe we need to rethink the naming of it. I feel like on the group level where we’re constantly trying to rethink and reposition is.

And so we have a really great way to get groups going, but every strength has a weakness. One weakness of ours is it’s so simple to start a group with us, but then it’s really hard on us as staff and our volunteer team to make sure that the groups are healthy. We’re constantly pruning our groups. I think just going through our training is something I’m always asking, why isn’t this easier? Why can’t we just do this? Or why have only this many percentage of our groups done that? The other thing is just with online ministry, generally, I think a lot of members and people attending churches online are still really confused at they’ll start a group and start serving.

Sometimes they ask, “Is this really my church?” And I deal with that a lot where people start engaging. I find out they’re at another church, and I don’t want that. I think making that more seamless, but it’s going to be, we never want to pull somebody away from a church. The number one reason why we delete groups is because of that — I find out they’re going to a church down the street or something else, and I’m like, “Hey, don’t do the group with us, do it with your church.” And so I call say that we have a leaky funnel where we’re constantly losing people to very healthy things. They’re not bad things. We’re not competitive on it, but our groups are constantly going up and down because of that reason.

Q5: What emerging platforms are you seeing for online small groups?

Jay: I’ve spent a lot of time in the last couple of weeks on Twitch because I’ve been playing chess, and I follow people on Twitch that stream and play chess. There’s a community around it. I was texting with a good friend of mine who’s like one of my defacto Facebook addicts, but a friend. And he asked if I had done any training or videos on Twitch.

The community there is so deep. The streamers on Twitch are playing whatever game and they just talk. There’s this active chat. I forget his name, but there is a guy who plays chess on Twitch. He has 25,000 people watching him play chess. Real-time he’s just playing chess. 25,000 people pay him. The chat is nuts. This is a community. They rally around him, and they know him. What’s hard is where Twitch is inherently — you are doing something else while you’re doing it. And so that’s why I think churches have a hard time because you don’t want to be playing Fortnite and then having a group. I think that’s why it’s gotta be separate. It’s got be a separate thing.

Q5.5: I need you to settle a debate. Our family has watched Saddleback quite a bit in the last year…30 some weeks of Rick [Warren] in the book of James. I’m like, dude, it’s only five chapters long! So here’s the debate because I told my wife, the worship team is not really singing. They recorded the audio in advance, and they’re lip-syncing, and she swears that they’re singing on-camera. Which one is it?

Jay: Well, I think I’m pretty positive. it’s recorded separately.

Allen: I knew it!

To listen to the interview on the Exponential Groups Podcast: allenwhite.org/episode2

Streaming Video is NOT Church Online!

Streaming Video is NOT Church Online!

Church online is direct-to-camera. Church online is interactive. Church online is an intentional effort to disciple a growing online congregation. Streaming video is passive. With streaming video (live or recorded), the viewer is an observer, not a participant.

The church has got to get this right, because according to some estimates getting back to “normal” could take up to three to four years (if it ever does). From recent conversations with pastors, the average church has about 30% of their people attending in-person. But, there are far more people joining for worship online. In fact, most churches are seeing larger online attendance than their normal worship numbers. One pastor I spoke to yesterday said that a year ago, they had 550 in worship. Today, there are 200 worshipping in-person and over 1,600 worshipping online. How are churches discipling their online congregations?

Screenshots Courtesy of Morningside Baptist Church, Columbus, Georgia.

Church Online is NOT Merely Streaming an In-person Worship Service.

Online worship services require a tighter shot. The services are shorter. Sermons are more like 20-30 minutes than 45 minutes. The pastor needs to speak direct-to-camera because the sermon is going to the living room. There’s a big difference between speaking to a big room and speaking to a small screen. The church, in general, did a better job at church online before people started regathering for in-person services.

But, as people are coming back, even just a small percentage of the congregation, the temptation is to speak to the few that are gathered and ignore the online worshippers. This is both rightly and wrongly so. A pastor cannot ignore the people gathered in the room, but a pastor also cannot create a passive experience for the larger group who are watching at home.

This reminds me of a moment about 30-40 years ago when churches were transitioning from traditional worship services to contemporary worship services. Many churches could not immediately make the jump. After all, if you alienate the base, then the giving goes down, and the pastor gets fired. So, churches offered separate services for traditional worship and for contemporary worship. A few tried “blended” worship, but was Stuart Briscoe once said, “If you blend contemporary and traditional, you end up with contemptible!”

By streaming in-person worship services, you end up with contemptible. If you speak direct-to-camera and ignore those gathered in-person, your people will think that they’re watching a TV preacher. But, if you speak only to the room and ignore the online congregation, you’ll lose them. I believe it’s time for churches to adopt two worship styles: an in-person service and an online service. The in-person service isn’t streamed. It’s created specifically for the people in the room. The online service is created specifically for the online congregation. It’s direct-to-camera. It’s shorter. It’s more interactive. The online service moves people from observing to participating. Why do this? There are more people “out there” than there are “in here.” This will be the case for a long while.

Church Online Needs Next Steps

A year ago online ministry was just a novelty, but in 2020 online ministry became a necessity. For a few months, the church regarded online services as a band-aid until things returned to normal. Today, no one knows when normal will return or what normal even is. And, that’s okay, because there is a larger opportunity online. Just look at your metrics.

How are you connecting with your online congregation? What next steps are you offering them? Do you even know who they are? Every weekend, you need to welcome visitors. Every weekend you need to collect their information by email or text. Then, you need to challenge them in their next steps just like you would an in-person guest.

Put your membership class online. There are no more excuses for not being able to attend. When your membership class goes online, people have 168 hours per week to participate. Put your growth track online. Saddleback Church just put CLASS 101-401 online after doing it live and in-person for 40 years! (and as of 8/30/2020, Saddleback added 600 new members through online CLASS 101).

How are you capturing information? How are you offering next steps? Church online is no longer just a stop gap, it’s church.

Church Online Needs Small Groups

While content is great, people need conversation and community. Whether groups meet in-person or online, or whether groups are made up of your church members or people you’ve never met, there is an opportunity to serve. Don’t take sign-ups for online groups. People will ghost your online groups that way. Instead, invite people to meet with people they know on platforms they know. There are many ways for groups to meet online, you just need to give them opportunity and permission along with some training and support to get started. Give these new groups a copy of my book, Leading Online Small Groups, which helps groups get started and helps established groups go online.

Churches with online small groups in place are faring far better than churches without online groups. There is a lot to process. There is a lot of fear and confusion in the world. People need to gather with others who will listen, care for them, and point them back to God in a personal, individual way. Online groups can accomplish this for those who are not ready to meet in-person yet.

Church Online Needs Opportunities to Care and Serve

People need an outlet for ministry. The Coronavirus pandemic has forced people to mostly stay home and to venture out very little. This isolation is taking a toll on people’s mental health. It’s not good to be alone thinking only about yourself.

Years ago a prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Karl Menninger, was asked a question by an audience member at a conference, “If you knew someone was suicidal, what would you recommend for that person to do?”

They audience expected Dr. Menninger to recommend immediate and intense psycho-therapy. Instead, Dr. Menninger replied, “I would tell them to go over to the other side of the tracks and help someone in need.” It’s healthy to help others. It’s unhealthy to be overly focused on oneself. (If you or someone you know is suicidal: 1-800-273-8255).

There are many needs in our communities. People need food. Parents need childcare. People need to know that someone cares. Encourage your online audience to participate with the church in serving your community or to just find a need a fill it.

Early during the pandemic, I came up with a list of ways people could practice the “one anothers” of Scripture digitally. Smartphone usage is WAY up. Why not use your phone to encourage others? You’re on it anyway.

Church Online Needs Reasons to Give

In a recent interview with NPR, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, said, “I think also it’s really going to change the way people think about their donation relationship with local churches as well. There’ll have to be an even greater demonstration of the value that a church brings not just to those who attend but also those who are part of this community.”

While all of the things listed above will certainly add value to your online congregation, churches must show how they are helping the community. Where are these dollars going? After all, those who are worshipping at home aren’t receiving the benefit of the building or the staff. But, beyond this, people need teaching about giving. Generosity is a spiritual discipline. It’s a sign of spiritual maturity. As your people grow, they will also grow in giving.

Concluding Thoughts

The American church is in a precarious moment. “As many as one in five churches could permanently close as a result of shutdowns stemming from the coronavirus pandemic,” according to Kinnaman. “Obviously, there will be a lot more online attendance than ever before, even after all churches reopen. I think this digital church is here to stay.”

I see two camps in the church right now. There are those who’ve been hunkering down and waiting for Coronavirus to blow over so things can get back to normal. These are the churches that are in the most danger right now. Then, there are those churches who are embracing this disruption as an opportunity to meet the practical needs of people, re-evaluate their current ministries, reposition themselves for digital ministry, and embrace the opportunity of reaching a lost, hurting, and broken world online.

Which camp is your church in?

Click here to read the Christian Post article about David Kinnaman’s NPR interview.

If you are ready to up your game with digital ministry, I am hosting a webinar with Phil Cooke on Thursday, October 1 at 2 pm Eastern. Phil has a PhD in Theology and is an active media producer. He is saying some things about the church that you need to hear. Registration is limited. REGISTER HERE.

How One Church Launched 119 New Online Groups in July 2020

How One Church Launched 119 New Online Groups in July 2020

This year has been just as crazy of a year for Rock Church in San Diego, CA as it has for everybody else. They have not conducted in-person services since March. Pastor Miles McPherson streams his message every Sunday morning to a growing online congregation. Then, in addition to quarantine, the US began to experience racial unrest to a high degree. Pastor Miles just so happens to be the author of The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation. Suddenly, he knew what his next sermon series would be. The church also decided to launch book groups to go along with the series. Even if your church isn’t a megachurch or your pastor has not written a book, the principles Rock Church used will help you launch more online and in-person groups. This is how they launched 119 new online groups in July:

The Senior Pastor Invited People to Join Groups.

Every week Pastor Miles invited people to start or join a new online small group during the online worship service. This invitation wasn’t relegated to the announcements or made by another staff member. Over the years, I’ve seen that when an associate pastor makes the invitation, the church gets about 30% of the result. In 30 years, of full time ministry, I’ve experienced the same. This is why a lot of churches get stuck with only 30% of their adults in groups. Pastor Miles gave the invitation, and he got a big response.

They Chose a Compelling Topic.

You want a topic that has a broad appeal to a large group of people. This is not the time to choose a mature topic like fasting or anything to do with money. There are times for those series. By choosing a topic on racial tensions and reconciliation, Rock Church was positioned well to start a maximum number of groups in the middle of the summer. Now, it helped that Pastor Miles was the author of a book on racial reconciliation, but your church could also start groups using Miles McPherson’s book or start groups with a weekly teaching video and discussion questions from your pastor. The more relevant the topic, the greater the appeal.

They Reframed the Invitation to Start a Group.

Rock Church did not start “small groups.” They started book clubs or book groups. Small groups already had a certain meaning in their church’s culture. Small groups implied high qualifications and a lot of training in advance. By inviting people to Book Clubs, they didn’t need a small group leader. They needed friends to discuss a book. Language defines culture. To change the culture of groups in your church, change the words you use.

They Gave Their People Permission and Opportunity.

People interested in starting book clubs simply invited people they knew who would be interested in the book. There was no lengthy sign-up process or website to build. People just leveraged their existing relationships to meet online and discuss a topic that was relevant to them at their pastor’s invitation. It doesn’t really need to be more complex than that. That’s how most of these got started.

Now Rock Church is a large church. Chances are that there were many people who wanted to join a book club, but didn’t feel they could start one and didn’t get invited. The opportunity was given to register to join a book club. About 600 people took them up on this offer. The risk comes when you assign prospective group members to book club “leaders” that the church doesn’t know well. Instead, the book clubs for those 600 are being led largely by the church staff. (The campuses are closed. Services are online. What else is the staff going to do….?).

They Gave New Leaders an Experienced Leader to Coach Them.

To prepare for this launch, Mark Richardson, the small groups pastor at Rock Church, began to recruit experienced group leaders to walk alongside these book group leaders during the series. With the pandemic everything is decentralized. They didn’t have the ability for large training meetings, so they delivered the training through experienced leaders who can support and encourage these new leaders and answer their questions as they come.

Concluding Thoughts

If you can get these five keys in place, you will see a big result: Senior Pastor’s invitation, relevant topic, reframe the invitation, give permission and opportunity, and give the help of a coach. It’s not as difficult or complex as you might think. In this past year, Mark Richardson and Rock Church were prepared through my small group ministry coaching group. When we started the year, none of us knew what this year would hold. In January, Mark didn’t know he would be starting book clubs in July. But, by being ready to try something new and having coaches standing by, when Pastor Miles decided on The Third Option series, Mark was ready. Their people and their groups have benefitted greatly.

If you are interested in a 2021 Small Group Ministry Coaching Group, we’d love to have you. Click here for more information.

For more information on online small groups, check out Leading Online Small Groups by Allen White

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People in Small Groups will:

Attend More.

Give More.

Invite More.

Grow More.

Disciple More.

Serve More.

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