By Allen White
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.
By Allen White
By Allen White
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
Multisite churches have multiplied ministries and reached the lost very effectively over the past decade in the US. What started as a desperate need for expansion at Seacoast Church’s Mt. Pleasant, SC campus and the subsequent denial by their city council to let them expand led to the launch of a new model that duplicated services across counties, states and eventually countries in the case of churches like Saddleback. The fix to a zoning problem became a launch pad for evangelism. Now, for the next wave.
A while back on a coaching visit to Seacoast Church, Josh Surratt mentioned to me that a family from their church had moved to the state of Maine and had 40 people meeting in their living room every Sunday watching the Seacoast service online. I said to Josh, “Maybe it’s time to redefine what a campus is.”
Prior to this, a multisite campus had always been a designated building, either rented or owned, some distance from the main/broadcast/original campus that provided a pastoral staff, worship, children’s ministry and other things associated with a church. Now there’s an opportunity for a new model that requires less overhead and could be put in any situation in a town of any size anywhere in the world.
While many churches will reach into the suburbs or into other metropolitan areas, few churches are reaching into small places. I don’t think it’s on the radar to plant a multisite campus in Possum Kingdom, South Carolina, the hometown of Bo and Bear from the band Needtobreathe. If you’re not familiar with Possum Kingdom, it’s right next to Honea Path. There are a lot of towns that no one’s ever heard of before and some of them have very strange names but every town has a group of people who could make up a microsite church.
Now some would object and say, “Doesn’t every small town have some sort of a small church already?” and the answer is yes. The problem is that we live in a national culture. We watch the same television programs and listen to the same music whether we live in New York City or in Podunk Holler, Arkansas. Small churches in small towns cannot compete with what the culture has to offer. It’s just hard to get people’s attention. There are churches, however, that have proven to develop effective ministries in our culture that have a broad reach. By bringing a microsite campus into a small town, you can bring in the quality and effectiveness of a large church ministry and package it for a living room. You could reach not just thousands of people in a metropolitan area but dozens to hundreds of people in a small town. If you do the math, there are more people in small towns than there are in large cities.
The idea of Microsite Churches is seminal at this point. A few churches are beginning to pilot this model or are considering a pilot. Let’s think about the keys to a worship service: you need music of some sort which can be prerecorded on video with subtitles and offered in a living room either through a download or DVD. You need teaching. Teaching on video is very common. I worship at a very large multi-site church and the teaching is by video. I’m at a multisite campus I have only ever met the senior pastor one time, but the video teaching makes you feel like you’re really there. The fact is when churches have the pastors on a screen, people will watch the screen even if the pastor is teaching live in the room.
There are a lot of things to think through: giving, childcare, counseling, marriage ceremonies, etc. But, let’s start with these few paragraphs and discuss what might be next. What do you like? What do you not like? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
By Allen White
Every once in a while in my life as a small group coach and trainer, I run into a senior pastor who insists on weekly attendance numbers from their groups. This is not so much for the purposes of discerning how the group is doing and isn’t even for the purpose of member care.
These pastors hearken back to the day of the old attendance board in the front of the auditorium. You remember those:
Last Sunday’s Attendance: 267
One Year Ago: 263
Sunday School Attendance: 56
While megachurches are often accused of being “only about the numbers,” it seems like others have a little number-envy going on themselves.
Small group pastors ask me, “Is weekly attendance really important?” To which, I refer them to Good Reasons to Take Group Attendance [LINK]. While the small group pastor acknowledges those benefits, he or she soon confesses the pressure for attendance numbers is coming from outside – from a tote board -obsessed senior pastor. They don’t care who’s signed up for a group. They want to know on a weekly basis who’s actually attending the group. Here is why this recordkeeping might be a bad idea.
Small Groups Are More Like Families Than Classes
Let’s say you have a family of five. Your son has a late practice so he can’t make dinner tonight. Sitting around the dinner table, do you have a family of four or a family of five? Small groups are more like families than classes.
Groups are built on community around a Bible study. Classes are based on a course of study. If you skip too many classes, then you miss the content – the class is really of no benefit to you. But, a group is not a class.
Yes, there are group rosters. And, yes, attendance may vary. But, what happens not only during group meetings, but also in group life is what causes small groups to stand apart. Whether you attend the meeting or not, you’re a part of the group.
Years ago, we had a neighbor who attended our church and wanted to join our small group. She lived right around the corner, so our group was convenient for her. She also wanted her husband to attend the group. He came once, but obviously didn’t want to be there.
They had busy lives, so rather than spending an evening apart with her at group and him at home, she opted to stay home as well, but we kept her on our roster. She never attended a meeting, but my wife would check in on her regularly, go for walks, and once in a while, she would show up for group.
She wasn’t a part of anybody else’s group. This was her group, whether she was there or not. Attendance records would report her as “inactive,” but we connected with her every week outside of the group meeting. See where record keeping can go a little haywire?
Small Group Attendance Alone Is a Poor Measure of Church Health
While it’s important to know over all how many people are connected to groups, ministries and classes, numbers should never be an end in themselves. What do those numbers mean? “Well, we have 80 percent in groups, so our small group pastor can keep his job.” “We’ve gone up and down with group attendance. Small groups aren’t working in our church.” That may be, but are you really getting the information you need?
Here are better metrics for group and congregational health:
How many leaders have you developed?
Every believer is called to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20). There are no exemptions from the Great Commission. How are you empowering and equipping your members to gather a circle and make disciples? For many churches, an easy-to-use DVD curriculum is the answer. The person doesn’t need to be a leader or a Bible scholar. They just need to invite some friends. What makes this even better is if you create the video teaching yourself.
How’s the load of pastoral care?
When numbers go up, care goes down. I believe Pastor Rick Warren said that. This is why even though Saddleback Church has well over 25,000 in attendance, they also have well over 4,700 small groups.
A church will never be able to hire all of the staff it needs – mini-church or megachurch – it’s the same case for everybody. But, there are gifted people sitting in our pews every Sunday. If we encouraged them, and they said, “God use me,” we shouldn’t be surprised, but God uses them.
As people care for each other in groups, the need for pastoral care goes down. The Body is encouraging and serving one another.
Now, every church culture is a little different. Some church members are well trained in calling the church office for every little thing they need. Others simply feel out rightly entitled. But, when care goes up in groups, phone calls to the church office will go down.
How has assimilation improved?
When people start attending your church, how easy is it for them to make friends? How are they connecting? Groups are a great place for people to start.
In most churches, everyone can’t know everybody. But, everybody needs to know somebody. Statistically, that number is around 6-7 people. That’s all it takes for a person to stick. And, that sounds like a small group to me!
People who feel the connection and care of the church body outside of the Sunday morning service are more likely to stick around. A few months ago, our family started attending the Greenville, SC campus of NewSpring Church. Our kids where actually invited first and loved it. My oldest son would like to go to church twice per week!
My wife and I joined a small group – not because we had to – but because we were invited. Here’s the interesting thing – even though over 3,000 people attend the Greenville campus, we run into members of our small group on a regular basis. We just pick each other out of the crowd. There’s just something really great about seeing a smiling, familiar face in a large crowd. [Begin Cheers theme song…]
Other than our small group and our children’s teachers, we don’t know anybody else at NewSpring. We’ve never met our pastor. We don’t know the staff. But, we do know our group, and that’s all we really need.
What’s more important: attendance or relationship?
If attendance supersedes relationship, then if you lose a member here or there, you just replace them to keep your numbers up. After all, if you’re posting numbers on a tote board, a decline is sending a bad message.
But, if relationship is valued over attendance, people will invest in each other and build into each others’ lives. Whether members are present at each meeting or not, they are loved, valued, encouraged and supported. These are harder things to measure, but are far more meaningful.
Good Reasons for Taking Group Attendance
When Counting Doesn’t Add Up