Recently a small group pastor asked me, “Where do you stand on the Hosts versus Leaders Debate? People grow in groups, but you don’t have to know anything to be the leader??? I feel like I need to train more but no one wants to sit through training.” This are very important issues. Let me break down this question and offer a few thoughts.
The Hosts versus Leaders Debate
I don’t believe a Hosts versus Leaders Debate is necessary. It’s like a Children versus Adults Debate. At one point in our lives we are children, and then we become adults. Back in 2002 with the launch of 40 Days of Purpose, Rick Warren and the team at Saddleback Church introduced us to the term “Host.” The thought was that most people wouldn’t say they were “leaders,” so the invitation was changed to “host a group” by brewing a pot of coffee and being a “Star with your VCR.” What we discovered were a few problems, but a ton of new leaders who would have never called themselves leaders. “Host” was a great way for people to self-identify as a leader, even if they didn’t know that’s what they were doing.
A host, in turn, becomes a leader. Usually churches will “lower the bar” to allow anyone to host a group. I prefer to say “delay the requirements.” Every church must decide what the minimum requirements would be to allow someone to test drive a small group. If the hosts enjoy leading the group, then they are invited on a pathway to become official small group leaders. This is when the requirements come back into play. But, there is an important loop hole here.
Some people are content to be hosts. They don’t want to become official. Does the church require them to become official? The church could. But, the cat’s already out of the bag. The host doesn’t need the church in order to continue. They just need another video-based curriculum. At that point communication breaks down, and the hosts operate outside of the group system and coaching structure. This doesn’t need to happen, if the church is patient.
The hosts should be given a choice whether to become official or to wait for the next church-wide campaign to come around. It’s not perfect, but it may very well be more than what they were doing before.
Some leaders are children. Others are teenagers. Most become adults. But, all leaders follow that pattern.
“People grow in groups, but you don’t have to know anything to be the leader???”
Years ago I started teaching theology and practical ministry classes at a Bible institute. I was a little intimidated about teaching in my first semester. I felt I needed a better understanding of the subject. I didn’t want to appear foolish. And, I certainly didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of my class. A veteran teacher coached me, “You just have to be one week ahead of the students.”
Granted I had earned a B.A. and an M.Div. I knew the subjects. I just hadn’t taught the subjects. I held the veteran teacher’s secret dearly. I just needed to be one week ahead of my class. And, that’s exactly how I taught at the Bible institute for the next 10 years.
People grow in groups. I absolutely agree. New leaders also grow in groups. They don’t need to have a lot of training to get started. They just need to get started. As issues come up with the group, the new leader should have a coach to turn to. The new leader’s problems become teachable moments. Those lessons will stick with the leaders forever. Put an experienced leader in the life of the new leaders and most of the training will take place on-the-job.
“I feel like I need to train more but no one wants to sit through training.”
I used to feel the same way. Seminary prepared me to lead training meetings. Then, I discovered real ministry. I would carefully plan my training meetings and advertise them well in advance only to stand in an empty room questioning the call of God on my life.
Training with centralized meetings didn’t work for me. I had to stop and ask myself, “What is training?” What I discovered was that training could be a two minute conversation in the hallway or a two minute video sent out to all of the group leaders. (If you need topics and content for your training videos, check out the training section of my book, Exponential Groups, on pages 178-200). Training can be a text message or a voice mail. The best training comes in the relationships between leaders and their coaches.
There is a place for formalized training. A one-time basic training event could be held after each six week campaign to give the new leaders or hosts instruction on how to lead a group at your church. Beyond this, the leaders will gauge what training they need regardless of what small group pastors like me think they should have.
I finally reached a place where I only held two centralized training events per year. I gathered all of the group leaders each Fall to introduce them to the new curriculum and to recruit coaches from our established leaders. In the book, I refer to this as the “Sneak Peek.”
The second meeting was often a group leaders’ retreat early in the year. We would choose a place that was an hour and a half or so away. (In California, this retreat was in Monterey, so if you have that option, take it!) The leaders would pay for their lodging and some of their meals. I would budget for the speaker. This became a very popular event for our leaders. The best part was the leaders could articulate things they learned at the retreat six months after the retreat, because the training was set apart from the normal routine of life.
I appreciate honest questions like this. I don’t believe the hosts versus leaders thing needs to be an either/or. I see it more like Stage 1 and Stage 2. If people don’t respond to an invitation to lead, then an invitation to “host” might do the trick. Personally, I think the term “host” is a bit dated at this point. There are other ways to invite people to lead without using the word “leader.”
Training is not a dinosaur, but the form of centralized training might be. Someone asked me once why I thought their leaders didn’t come to their training. Having no knowledge of this person’s training, I said, “Well, they don’t come because your training is boring and irrelevant.” He was taken aback. How could I make such an accusation about his training? I told him I knew it because that’s why people didn’t come to my training meetings. The good news is there are so many ways to communicate with people these days, there are many training opportunities, we just need to update our methods.
Steve Merriman is the CEO and Enrolled Agent at Clergy Advantage, Loveland, CO. Steve has worked with ministers and churches for 40 years and works with over 6,000 ministers including Rick Warren, Saddleback Church; Rick Rusaw, LifeBridge Christian Church; Tim Harlow, Parkview Christian Church; and Nelson Searcy, The Journey Church. You can connect with Steve and his staff at clergyadvantage.com.
Q1. Now that everyone is in a festive mood and ready to celebrate the birth of our Savior, let’s talk about taxes. With just a few days left in the year, what can pastors do right now to reduce their taxes for 2016?
Ministers can save a considerable amount by reviewing their housing allowance designations to make sure it’s adequate. The rule of thumb is to make it higher than what you think you’re going to spend. If you spend more than the designation on housing, you’ll lose out on big deductions.
Other ways to save and reduce tax liability before the end of the year would include contributions to an HSA or a retirement plan. Probably the easiest way to save is through a charitable contribution. As long as the check or credit card date is in 2016, you get the deduction in 2016. People are allowed to give cash contributions up to 50% of their adjusted gross income. Any excess contributions can carry over for 5 additional years.
Q2. Ministers’ taxes are not like anybody else’s taxes. What makes ministers’ taxes so unique?
There are four unique tax rules for ministers’ taxes:
(1) Ministers are completely exempt from all payroll tax. The minister (not the church) is responsible for taxes. Ministers can enter into a voluntary withholding arrangement with the church, but this is matter of convenience, but not a requirement.
(2) Ministers are entitled to a housing allowance exclusion. The amount designated for your Housing Allowance can have a dramatic impact on your tax savings. As I said before, the minister wants to set the housing allowance higher than what they plan to use in case of unforeseen housing expenses or repairs. If a portion of the housing allowance is not used for housing, then that amount will be taxed as regular income.
(3) Dual employment status – Ninety percent of ministers are considered common law employees for state and Federal income tax, but are deemed as self-employed for social security tax. Minister receive a W2 which reports their income, but they have to pay self-employment tax on the income.
(4) Opting out of social security on ministry income. Ministers for religious reasons are allowed to opt out of social security. This is a decision that must be made early on in their ministry.
There are many ways pastors can receive what we call “Tax-Free Money.” For an overview of these strategies, take a look at the “Tax-Free Money for Ministers” video on the website.
Q3. What could pastors do to save taxes in 2017 that they might not be doing now?
Ministers should implement an Accountable Reimbursement Plan for ministry income. There are huge advantages. If you utilize it correctly, you get all of the ministry expenses off the tax return and it reduces your chance of audit. We offer a free 20 minute webinar on high points of an Accountable Reimbursement Plan: Click Here for More Info.
The key is in the implementation of the accountable plan. Other than automobile, the single biggest item is human expenses, including expenses of entertaining members or prospective members in the minister’s home. There is a significant key to church growth in personal entertainment, which can be reimbursed. If minister deducts these expenses on a tax return, the minister only gets a 50% deduction, but if they are reimbursed by the church then it’s a 100% savings. This strategy also reduces social security expense.
Q4. How can a minister’s salary structure give an advantage at tax time?
How the minister’s pay package salary is structured plays a big part in the overall tax savings. A Common mistake in the church is to equate “package” and “pay” as the same. They are not! The minister’s “take home” pay that is available to provide for the minister’s family is not the same as the total pay package. The tax treatment of expenses, pay and benefits is different in the church from the business world. Clergy compensation itself is quite different from employee compensation in the business world. These are “apples” to “oranges” comparatives.
A properly structured pay package will frequently be more impactful to savings taxes than how the tax return is completed.
Q5. I just received a notice from Clergy Advantage about the mileage deduction being reduced from $0.54 to $0.535 in 2017. How can church staff keep up on changes like this?
This is my interview with Doug Fields, the author of Intentional Parenting. Doug serves as the Executive Director of HomeWord’s Center for Youth/Family at Azusa Pacific University, co-founder of downloadyouthministry.com, and the author of more than 50 books. He previously served on staff at Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA with Rick Warren, and South Coast Community Church (now Mariners Church). Doug is currently a Teaching Pastor at Mariners Church, Irvine, CA with Kenton Beshore.
Intentional Parenting is a resource for Couples, Small Groups, or Classes based on Doug’s 10 Actions for parents as described in the video). The curriculum includes a DVD teaching video, an individual workbook, and a downloadable discussion guide. As of March 2016, we are looking for churches willing to pilot the Intentional Parenting curriculum with groups, classes, or groups of friends. Space is limited to the first 50 churches who register. For more information on the pilot: allenwhite/org/ip-pilot
Please forgive the recording. It did not come out quite as well as I had hoped, but the Doug’s content is solid. So, maybe listen to this and not watch it!
Relationships are far more important than programs or processes. While churches may offer training through a baseball diamond or a growth track, the relationships in a person’s life are far more influential than any short class can be. Besides no person comes into a church exactly the same way. Some come from great homes. Others from terrible ones. Some are fairly mature. Others are very broken or haven’t admitted their brokenness. Some are self-righteous. Others are ashamed. Every person who walks through the door is different than the last one. The church “factory” lacks the consistent “raw materials,” therefore, the widgits won’t turn out to be identical once the process has been imposed on them.
We used to be a society where people were born into community, then had to discover their individuality. Now, we are a society of individuals seeking community. Big makes them feel isolated. Small is what works. This is why churches like North Point led by Andy Stanley reportedly have some 60,000 people in groups. This is why Saddleback Church founded by Rick Warren has thousands and thousands of groups for their church-wide campaigns. This is also why a church of 50 people at Dallas Baptist Church, Dallas, PA, created their own small group curriculum and connected 100 people into groups. Rock concerts are great, but then again, so are intimate dinners with a few friends.
When a church reaches 250 in attendance, you hear the congregation saying “I don’t know everybody anymore.” When the church grows to 400 or so and has multiple services, the congregation says, “I can’t find the people I know.” If the church is much bigger than that, people simply don’t know where to start. How do they get to know people? How do they connect with new Christian friends? Very soon you realize that one size does not fit all and that your groups need to catch up in a hurry.
The early church met in temple courts and house to house (Acts 5:42). In our day, the temple courts would represent the weekend worship service. And, house to house would mean house to house (or Waffle House). While there’s a place for the old country church and the mega-, giga-, tetra- church, if the church has more than 25 people, then groups should be a serious consideration.
Years ago, I was coaching a church of 42 people in Georgia. The pastor started four groups, whose membership exceeded the size of the congregation. He showed up at our training event with his volunteer small groups director. Sometimes small is too big.
When it comes to church, size does matter. The ideal size is somewhere in the range of 3-30 people meeting in a home.
If you currently have 50 percent of your adults in groups, you have accomplished more than most people would ever hope for. Your success, however, is also your greatest obstacle. As Jim Collins says, “Good is the enemy of great.” You have potential for greatness. This is no time to rest on your laurels.
Now, if you just reached 50 percent in groups in your most recent launch, then there is certainly reason to celebrate. If you’ve been at 50 percent for a while, then there is cause for concern. It’s time to change things up a bit.
If They Turned You Down, Give Something They will Say “Yes” to
You’re at a great spot. Half of your people have said “yes” to groups. But, let’s not become overly optimistic here. While you’re glass is half full, it is also half empty. An equal number of people have said “No” to your invitation.
Why did they turn groups down? Don’t they love Jesus and want to go to Heaven? Of course they do. But, there was something in the invitation or in the approach that they chose to reject. The best way to find out why they turned you down is to ask them. While I will give you a few ideas here, a quick survey of the folks not currently in groups will give you the reasons they said “no.”
Repeat After Me, There is No Silver Bullet Strategy
No single strategy will connect all of your members into groups. It simply does not exist. So, before you decide to scrap the strategy that helped you connect 50 percent into groups, please embrace this fact: it’s a dumb idea to toss what is working for this many people. Now, am I calling you dumb? Of course not, because you’re not going to scrap your strategy. Keep your strategy, but let’s build on it.
If one strategy could connect 100 percent or more of your congregation into community, then every church would have 100 percent of their people in groups. While there are some significant examples of this level of connection like The Lutheran Church of the Atonement, Barrington, IL or Van Dyke Church, Lutz, FL, most churches are not soaring with the eagles. They are clucking with the chickens on this.
If you’ve connected 50 percent of your people by handpicking leaders and manually assigning people into groups, then you should be in the Guinness Book of World Records. If you’ve started groups with the H.O.S.T. strategy out of Saddleback or Group Link from North Point, you can persist with these methods and get a little bit further, but eventually the strategies will run out of steam and you will be stuck at 66 percent.
To get well beyond 50 percent in groups, you need to change something up. Remember, give them something to say “Yes” to! Maybe it’s time to redefine the size of the group. Not every group needs to be 10-12 people. Some groups could be 4-5 people. Other groups could be 25 people. The size depends more on the leader than anything else.
If you’ve been purchasing curriculum, maybe it’s time to create your own. Your senior pastor’s video teaching will be far more popular with your congregation than anyone else’s curriculum. And, your pastor’s curriculum will be far more popular with your pastor too. His buy-in will take your leader recruiting and group formation to a whole other dimension.
Maybe it’s time to add a second or third strategy to what you are already doing to form groups. Please notice I said “add” not “replace.” I’ve seen too many churches wreck a good strategy in favor of an elusive one. If you are handpicking leaders, then add the host strategy to the degree you feel comfortable. If you are using the host strategy, then make it more flexible by allowing leaders to form “Invitation Only” groups where they invite everyone in the group.
Don’t make a wholesale change. If you’re not sure if an additional strategy will work for you, then run a low risk pilot first. If it succeeds, then proceed. If it doesn’t, well, sometimes experiments blow up.
Having 50 percent of your people in groups is a good place to be. With a few tweaks and changes, you could end up at a great place to be. Change something!
For more information on Allen White and his consulting services, please visit: allenwhite.org