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.

What’s Wrong with Rooted

What’s Wrong with Rooted

By now you’ve probably heard of Rooted or used it in your church. Rooted is an experience brought over from Kenya by Mariners Church about a decade ago. If you haven’t heard of Rooted, you can get the full details here and here . While many churches have seen phenomenal life transformations through Rooted, other churches have struggled to implement Rooted or to deal with life after Rooted. While I’ve written a great deal about what is working with Rooted, let’s take a look at what churches are finding difficult.

Rooted is a Big Deal, but It’s Only 10 Weeks

Where will your groups go after Rooted ends? While Rooted should be a major initiative in any church, it is only 10 weeks. Rooted requires a certain amount of training in order to qualify a facilitator to lead the Rooted group. So, for the group to continue, you need to raise up a new leader to lead the on-going group. If you don’t then, you will lose your Rooted facilitator and will have to recruit more facilitators for future groups. You have to begin with the end in mind.

As the Rooted group starts, the facilitator needs to quickly size up the Rooted group to see who the potential on-going group leader might be. You could even get ahead of this by recruiting the on-going leader before the Rooted group begins. Of course, this puts you in the dilemma of recruiting both Rooted facilitators and group leaders. We all know how tough handpicking leaders can be.

One option would be to ask someone to gather a group, then give them a Rooted facilitator. Similar to a church-wide campaign where someone would gather their friends, then the church would supply a video-based curriculum. Instead of giving them a video, you would give them a Rooted facilitator. Then, when the 10-weeks of Rooted ends, you have the on-going leader in place.

Regardless of your approach, you must have a plan in place to recruit or to raise up an on-going group leader. What will the groups do after the 10 weeks? You need to plan the next step before you introduce the first step.

Rooted Creates an Appetite Churches Can’t Fill

The approach to disciple making in Rooted is much different than most Western left-brained approaches. The rhythms of Rooted touch on both the left and right sides of the brain. (For more on this see, The Other Half of Church by Jim Wilder and Michel Hendricks). While there is plenty of left brained activity like daily homework and Bible discussion, the addition of the rhythms and experiences of Rooted produce powerful transformation. This combination creates an appetite for more. The problem is at this point there isn’t more.

I have seen a few other attempts at follow up studies to Rooted like Story and Life in Rhythm, but at this point neither of these measure up to the original Rooted. So, should your church avoid Rooted until this is remedied? Absolutely not! But, here’s what you need to think through.

First, in time Life in Rhythm will measure up, so be patient. You can offer Rooted without offering its immediate cousin as a next step. In fact, you can turn any 6-8 week study into a Rooted sequel by adding the prayer experience, strongholds study, serve experience, and celebration. The appetite is for the rhythms and not necessarily the “brand.” (But, the brand is pretty great.)

Next, consider other studies which relate to the themes of Rooted. At the Rooted Celebration the graduates are commissioned to find and fill needs in the community as “ministers of the Gospel.” Studies like The Neighboring Life by Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis or The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon would dovetail beautifully with this commission. After all, you don’t need any special ability to be a neighbor!

Before you begin Rooted in your church, you need to have a next step study in mind. If you haven’t planned a next step, then you will have created an appetite that will go unsatisfied in your church. That is never a good thing.

Churches Don’t Know What They’re Getting Into

Rooted is a powerful experience. I have seen little else that produces the level of life transformation as Rooted. But, you know when you introduce powerful godly forces, then you will face a significant amount of spiritual warfare.

When I worked with Mariners Church and the Rooted Network on their pastors’ training events, as a Rooted semester began things would always happen: financial struggles, relationship tension, health problems – you name it. In every semester stuff happened. As a Presbyterian friend of mine says, “Well, when you do things for God you can expect a certain amount of spiritual flak!” And, we did. At one point, I mentioned to Robin Riley, the former COO of Rooted, “When it comes to the dynamics of Rooted, sometimes I wonder if you should run toward it or run away from it.” I’m not saying these things to scare you, but you need to be prepared.

You need to bathe your Rooted launch and Rooted experience in prayer. This is a powerful tool. God will do amazing things, but you will face opposition. Before you execute a single strategy, ask the prayer warriors in the church to pray for your staff, your facilitators, your members, your church, and your community. Otherwise, if you launch headlong into Rooted without sufficient prayer covering, you might end up like the Sons of Sceva (Acts 19). Ok, maybe not exactly, but you get what I’m saying.

Give every Rooted facilitator a coach and check in with them regularly. Rooted will bring up a lot of stuff. You won’t see this in the first two or three weeks, but after that, your facilitators will face some things they may not have experience in. They will need to process what’s going on in their group. Enlist some mature folks in your church to check in with your facilitators every week and make themselves available to them. While this is something you might be tempted to skip, don’t skip it. This is necessary for the well-being of your leaders.

Rooted Brings Up Major Issues

If Rooted works well, then Rooted graduates will never be the same. People will come to Christ. People will be set free. Some will be completely overwhelmed by the spiritual strongholds in their lives (Week 5). They will need something beyond Rooted to address these issues.

I am currently working with a church that did Rooted as a church-wide campaign a couple of years ago. All 1,400 of their people did Rooted all at once. They are still trying to sort everything out. For months there was not a single counseling appointment available in their town. All of the counselors were booked up with Rooted graduates who needed to process their strongholds.

If your church is doing Rooted as a church-wide campaign, then have some resources in place to deal with these strongholds. Celebrate Recovery and other support groups can be a great resource. Recommendations for local counselors will be welcome. The strength of Rooted is that people will face stuff that they’ve buried for a long time. They will experience freedom. They will experience blessing and connection with God. But, this isn’t automatic. Be prepared to give them the help they will need.

The Biggest Problem with Rooted

Churches have been anxious to offer Rooted to their people to see their lives transformed. This is a wonderful thing. This is what first attracted me to Rooted. But, this is only half of the equation.

The purpose of Rooted is to transform both people AND churches. When the people change but the church doesn’t change, there is a problem. Rooted is built on the Simple Church concept [LINK]. Rooted calls for you to re-evaluate the ministries in your church and to purge the things that don’t align with your mission.

In the early days of Rooted in North America, much was made about the Loop (pictured below). Now, many Rooted churches don’t know what the Loop is.

The title of the Loop tells the story: Transformational versus Transactional. The intent of Rooted is to change people’s lives, but also to change the culture of your church. The focus goes to culture, connection, and outreach – nothing else. Rooted is an empowering movement. But, if you attempt to put new wine into old wineskins, then you’ll have a mess on your hands.

Think About This

If you’re church is using Rooted or planning to, do it! But, plan ahead. Here’s your checklist:

What is your prayer strategy?

Who will lead the on-going group?

What are the next steps after Rooted?

Who will coach the Rooted facilitators?

What resources will you offer people to process their spiritual strongholds?

How will you allow Rooted to impact your church in every area?

Rooted can and will make a tremendous difference your community. If you are ready or reluctant to launch Rooted in your church, then let’s talk. Click this link to set up an appointment.]

There are also Small Group Ministry Coaching Groups available. Many Rooted churches have participated in these cohorts over the years.

Creating Community

Creating Community

Community is just as essential to spiritual growth as content. Think about this: Jesus who designed your brain also taught you how to make disciples. According to one study, Jesus spent 73% of His time with His disciples. This involved teaching, eating, serving, debating, correcting, and sending. All of this was wrapped around community. While the Enlightenment hijacked the Western church’s approach to disciple making, neuroscience is showing the importance of community in developing godly character.

Disciple making is not merely a transfer of information. It’s not simply making better choices. Disciple making is certainly not a process. After all, you’re not manufacturing widgets. And, as I’ve written before, sermons don’t make disciples. Character is formed in community. How is community formed? Here are some ways to connect your congregation into community:

Leverage Existing Relationships

“Everyone is already in a group.” That’s the first sentence of my first book, Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential (Hendrickson 2017) . When you think about your people, they are in families, workplaces, classes, sports teams, hobbies, friendships, and neighborhoods. Over the years, I discovered that some people won’t join a small group because they value these relationships more than a church small group. Rather than grousing against that pull, I embraced it. Resource and empower people to make disciples in the groups they already enjoy. You don’t have to make it hard.

The short of it is if you will give your people permission and opportunity to start a group, give them an easy-to-use resource (like self-produced curriculum with your pastor’s teaching), a little training, and a coach to walk alongside them, you can start more groups than you’ve ever dreamed. If you don’t know the leader, then don’t advertise their group. They’re gathering their friends anyway. These groups tend to form more easily and stay together longer than groups formed in other ways. After all, groups of friends tend to last longer than groups of strangers. (You’ll have to read the rest of Exponential Groups to learn the system of starting and sustaining small groups for the long haul.) Leveraging existing relationships is one way to create community.

Pursuing a Common Topic or Interest

Sometimes community starts from the other direction. Instead of gathering friends for a study, people sign up for group based on a relevant topic. You can start groups around marriage, parenting, relationships, finances, Bible studies, book clubs, and a myriad of other subjects. People are drawn by the topic, but stay for the community.

Similarly, you can start groups around hobbies, interests, or activities. What do your people enjoy doing? These groups can connect both people in your church and in your community. Again, by giving permission and opportunity, someone with an interest can start a group around it.

Now in both of these cases, you will need to know these leaders well, since you will advertise these groups. They will need to qualify as leaders in your church, so the start up process will be longer than gathering groups of friends, but it’s important to offer multiple strategies to form groups. After all, one size does not fit all.

Connecting through a Shared Experience

Shared experience can range from serving teams to missions trips to Rooted groups. These are higher commitment experiences that quickly bond people together. While every group may not start this way, it would be a waste to allow these tight knit groups to discontinue.

When your people serve in the community, they develop a connection. When they travel together outside of the country, they certainly bond together. When they spend 10 weeks in a Rooted group, they are united by a powerful experience that stretches them in many ways. All of these experiences beg for a way to continue. Give them an opportunity to continue.

Think About This

This is a short list. This is just a sample of the ways your people can connect into community. What I want you to hear is that people need more than content. If they only needed content, then you could post online videos for them to watch, and they would just grow on their own. The problem is that they won’t watch videos in isolation, and they can’t grow without encouragement, support, accountability, and relationship with others. People are just not made that way.

Offer as many opportunities as possible for people to connect in community. Start friend groups, campaign groups, men’s groups, women’s groups, topic studies, activity groups, affinity groups, support groups, and on-going groups out of shared experiences. My only caution is this: Don’t start all of these all at once. But, for everyone who tells you “no,” offer them something they might say “yes” to.

Justin Bird from Crossfit once said, “People came for the fit and stayed for the family.” (from a recent episode of the Church Pulse Weekly podcast with Jay Kim). I wrote about Crossfit a few years back in a post called What Michelob Ultra Understands About Community: “Now, before you announce in the next staff meeting that your church is going to open its own CrossFit gym, don’t miss the point. Community comes in various shapes and sizes: small groups, activity groups, task groups, classes, Bible studies — all of these are environments where community can take place, but none are a guarantee that community will take place. Community is formed around common goals, common interests, and even common enemies. Maybe promoting community in the church is recognizing the community that is already taking place.”

How are you creating community in your church? What do you need to try?

Top Posts of 2020

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5. Why Are People Ghosting Online Small Groups?

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  1. How Mariners’ Rooted Journey Grows Groups, Service and Giving
Making Disciples Out of Church-wide Campaigns

Making Disciples Out of Church-wide Campaigns

Church-wide campaigns are great sprints toward connecting a lot of people in a hurry. But, disciple-making is a marathon, not a sprint. The ultimate goal of groups is to make disciples. Disciples are not the end result of a process. Disciples are crafted. Eventually, the church will want video-based-curriculum-dependent newbies to be able to rightly divide the Word of Truth and facilitate a discussion leading toward on-going life change. You can’t grow disciples in fits and starts. As Eugene Peterson once titled a book, it’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

Image by Robert Jones from Pixabay

Campaigns can help you or hurt you. Just like hot sauce, you’ve got to know how much to use and when. Otherwise, you’ll numb your taste buds for campaigns. Is it time to start a church-wide campaign? Or, is it time to stop?

In  Jesus’ work with His disciples, there are three distinct phases: “Come and Follow” (Matthew 4:19), “Come and Die” (Luke 9:23), and “Go and Make” (Matthew 28:18-20). While some churches attempt to start “serious” discipleship groups with “come and die,” it’s much easier to start groups with “come and follow,” and then lead them into maturity to reach “come and die.”

The purpose of the “Come and follow” stage is connection. Whether the church is trying to connect their worship attendance, the neighborhood, or both, this connection purpose can largely be achieved by offering a felt needs topic with an alignment series, as described in Exponential Groups. This low commitment, short-term approach allows potential leaders and their groups to test drive a group and begin the habit of meeting together. While the primary purpose is connection, other purposes including leadership development and spiritual growth can certainly take place at the “Come and follow” stage.

The danger in connection groups is in seeing them as an end in themselves. They should be viewed as the starting point for discipleship which will increase the maturity of the group members and group leaders. Some pastors embrace the notion that things must be kept easy and low commitment in order to produce maximum results. After working with churches in their alignments series for nearly 20 years now, the reality is the low commitment and low requirement approach eventually produces low maturity. What’s worse is that as the church continues into a minority Christian culture, the lack of challenge is off-putting to those who seek depth and genuine relationship with God and others. In the 21st century, people are looking for answers. They desire a cause to live for. Once they are engaged in groups, they need more. They need the challenge to “Come and Die.”

The purpose of the “Come and Die” phase is growth and spiritual maturity. Please don’t read those words as “deeper” teaching and more Bible facts. While the intellect is important (after all God gave humans a book and a brain), there is so much more to discipling the whole person. This is more than an academic exercise. A well-rounded approach to discipleship must take into consideration every aspect of a person’s life and being – physical, emotional, relational, financial, intellectual, and other areas. This topic is too large to explore here. There is a future book in the works.

The mission of the church in making disciples is to baptize them and teach them to obey what Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). Obedience and surrender are best evidenced in a person’s attitude and actions. Rather than using all of the clichés about “walking your talk” and so forth, the point is the end product of discipleship is someone who resembles Jesus Christ. They have died to themselves and their ways of dealing with things and replaced their ways with those of Jesus. The self is sacrificed to produce genuine transformation.

The church can turn up the temperature on discipleship in their groups through the curriculum and leadership training offered. Again, this is not an invitation to teach groups to parse Greek verbs. Curriculum should be a balance of personal time with God, a group discussion of the Bible, assignments to turn words into action, and accountability to check progress.

Curriculum is not just a course of study, but an action plan for integrating the teaching of the Bible into daily life. This is not merely an ascent to a belief statement, but how believers live and breathe in their daily lives. Study formats like Rooted , The Neighboring Life by Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis, Emotionally-Healthy Discipleship by Pete Scazzero, D-Life by Dr. Bill Wilks and Dr. John Herring, or D-Groups by Robby Gallaty help to turn up the temperature of discipleship. Even a format like the Discovery Bible Study Method which uses the same nine questions for every passage of Scripture helps group members to apply God’s Word and live it out. The expectation here is the power of God resident in every believer (Ephesians 1:18-20) accompanied by studying the Bible and interacting with other believers will produce transformed lives.

A few years ago, I was working with a small group director who had moved from another country to the United States. In his country of origin, there was a high expectation of believers learning, doing, and sharing what they’ve learned from the very beginning of their relationship with God. He was a little beside himself when he came to the U.S. and discovered many believers learned biblical truth without much intention of practicing what they learned or sharing it with others. When he challenged people in his church to high commitment approaches to discipleship, he found resistance. I asked him if he had ever heard the analogy of the frog and the kettle. He had not.

I explained this common story about placing frogs in hot water caused them to jump out. Yet, by placing frogs in cold water, then gradually turning up the temperature, the frogs remained in the hot water because the change was gradual. I told him he was putting his disciples in hot water. That’s why they were resisting. (If you’re shaking your head at this point about the reverse implications of this analogy, I apologize. I’ll switch gears before this turns into martyrdom, which is no joking matter).

For average American church members, the move from the worship service to a group is a pretty big step. If the benefit of a group is unproven, they need an opportunity to try out this environment in a short-term, low commitment way. An alignment series or church-wide campaign fits the bill. If they’ve had a positive experience, then the group may agree to continue into a follow up series. Once these two studies have been completed, then it’s more likely that the group will continue on.

Group leaders are given a leadership pathway to develop as disciples and as group leaders. Group members should also be given a pathway. This could be based on the results of the group’s health assessment. The right curriculum can also lead the group into new experiences and even into taking risks as a group. These risks could include things like the three-hour prayer experience in Rooted, the neighborhood map in The Neighboring Life, or the genogram in Emotionally-Healthy Spirituality. The goal of these exercises is to learn to trust God in deeper ways, to hear God, and to learn about oneself.

Curriculum for the sake of curriculum is worthless. Checking off a list of studies doesn’t guarantee growth. But, using curriculum as a vehicle to produce growth and lasting change is worthwhile. What is your curriculum producing? What are your groups producing? Using an assessment to evaluate the progress your people, your groups, and your church is making.

The third phase from Scripture is “Go and Make.” While these phases don’t need to occur in sequential order, the goal is to make disciples who make disciples. After all, that’s how a church knows it’s making disciples. If the people in the church are not making disciples, then they are not disciples. The appropriate term for them would be “the crowd.” In the Gospels, Jesus spent 73 percent of His time with His disciples. He didn’t devote vast amounts of time to serving the crowd. Boy, has the modern American church turned that on its head.

“Go and Make” implies that church members are thinking about others more than about themselves and their own needs. They are become self-feeders. The focus is on servant leadership at various levels. While most people in the church will not have the title of leader, they do have influence over people around them. The goal is to multiply their lives and their abilities. Jesus spent three and a half years investing in 12 disciples, who after His departure, developed others and took the message of the Gospel throughout their known world, establishing churches, and making disciples. If you’re a Christian reading this, it’s because of these 12 who Jesus poured His Life into. Who are your 12?

This is the place where pastors equip the church to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). In the last 30 years, the church has catered to people in order to serve a Christian consumer culture. A growing gap has emerged between staff and volunteers, or clergy and laity, as it was once known. People are asked to volunteer to serve the church and the efforts of the church staff. But, the volunteers are the church!

Members should be challenged to pursue and develop their gifts. Resources like Network by Bruce Bugbee and Leadershift by Don Cousins and Bruce Bugbee create the philosophical foundation for gifts-based ministry that is truly satisfying to church members and effective in reaching the neighborhood. After all, ministry is not something pastors do to people. Ministry is the purpose of the church body, not the leaders of the institution. People need to serve in meaningful ways in order to grow spiritually. Meaningless volunteer roles cannot meet this purpose.

Since a church of any size cannot assess and recognize the gifts of every church member, groups play an essential role in helping people discover, develop, and use their gifts. This is more than another assessment. There is an expectation for people to take responsibility for understanding and implementing their gifts to fulfill the mission of the church. There is also a responsibility for the church to release, not just ministry responsibilities, but also the authority to carry them out.

One more step lies beyond identifying and using gifts – members developing other members. Every person in every role in the church, including members, pastors, and church staff, must multiply what they are doing in the lives of others. This is one of the primary purposes of groups – leadership development. The church must embrace Hero-making as articulated by Dave Ferguson and Dr. Warren Bird. The pastor is not the hero in the church. The staff are not the heroes. The members are not the heroes. But, they are all called to make heroes. They are all called to invest in others and help them flourish in ministry. They are called to work themselves out of a job, so a new ministry, a new group, or a new church can be launched to serve others and repeat the process.

These three phases may not be the only phases. They don’t necessarily need to be taken in exact order (or else some churches will camp on phase two until Jesus returns and never get to phase three). The point is everyone must be challenged to take a next step at every phase. Those only attending worship must be challenged to join a group. Everyone in a group must be challenged to take what they learn to heart and mature in their faith as evidenced by their actions and attitudes. Those who are maturing must reach out to their neighborhoods and share their hope. Those who are serving must develop others to serve.

Attractional services and advertising built some great churches over the last 30 years. The next 30 years will be much different than the last 30 years. This statement is not meant to discount what happened over the last 30 years, but it’s time to gear up for what is next. In working with churches across North America, I’ve visited many formerly great churches. At one point in time, the church was the shining beacon in the community. Maybe they were the first church to offer contemporary worship music and relevant messages. People came in droves, until every other church in town followed the model. Now those churches are dwindling. They are formerly great.

There is a shift that must take place in order to engage people in the 21st century. These concluding thoughts reveal part of the thinking needed for the church to flourish in an increasingly minority Christian culture.


This post is an excerpt from the Exponential Groups Workbook(Hendrickson 2020). Allen White helps Take the Guesswork Out of Groups. We offer booksonline coursescoaching groups, and consulting.


[The Neighboring Life. Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis. Longmont, CO: The Neighboring Life, 2017. https://Theneighboringlife.com

Emotionally-Healthy Discipleship. Peter and Geri Scazzero. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019. https://emotionallyhealthy.org

D-Life Journal. Dr. Bill Wilks. Life Bible Study, 2017. https://livingthedlife.com

Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples. Robby Gallaty. Nashville: B&H Books, 2013. https://replicate.org

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