By Allen White
“Nobody ever leaves ‘good enough’ for ‘potentially better'” according to Robert Herjavec of Shark Tank fame in the December 2016 issue of Fortune magazine. He makes a very good point. While Herjavec was starting his software security business, he found difficulty selling something slightly better than what people were currently using. I’m a buyer like that.
A nice young man named Storm calls me once in a while from Citrix. I’ve been their customer for many years, since I’ve found GotoMeeting to be a very stable platform for my coaching groups. Storm would like me to consider Citrix’s version of Dropbox. He’s a very nice young man. He gave a solid presentation. He checks up on me now and then. The only problem is Storm wants me to sign up for Citrix’s version of Dropbox, and I’m a longtime Dropbox user. Good enough wins over potentially better.
Now, if the Citrix’s version came bundled with GotoMeeting and gave me a discount, then maybe. But, I have Dropbox links in my emails, my articles, everywhere. It’s a lot to unlink just to link back up with a similar product. If Dropbox had a catastrophic failure, then maybe I would switch to a different platform. But, until I have a compelling reason, I have no motivation to change.
Let’s pretend you are Storm from Citrix, and I am your church member. You want me to join a small group. I “don’t have time for a group” a.k.a. “it’s not a priority in my life.” Why? I have friends already. I have a regular quiet time. I’m involved with other things at church. Now, without overselling small groups or making them mandatory (both tactics will fail), why should I join a small group? How are groups better than what I’m currently doing?
If you can answer this question, then people might abandon what they’re doing for something they perceive as better.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.
By Allen White
By Allen White
In leading small groups and tracking trends over the last 25 years, I’ve done all kinds of things to recruit leaders and get people connected into groups. Some of those things, I had to apologize for. Others, I simply avoided from the start. While this post is not meant to cast aspersions on other well-meaning practitioners, it might be time to slow down and rethink some of the things we’ve been doing.
1. Telling People, “Your small group will be your new best friends.”
Sometimes in our zeal of connecting people into community, we overreach and make unrealistic promises about small groups. Let’s face it, we’ve all been in small groups. Some of those groups rocked. Some of those groups don’t rock. The more random the method in forming small groups, the less likely people will become friends, let alone, close friends. I’ve actually had to apologize for this one.
Maybe a better way to say this is that prospective group members will meet some friendly people in groups. That’s a safer bet. But, you can even go one better.
Encourage people to form a group with the friends they already have. This way they are doing something intentional about their spiritual growth and getting together with their friends. This is much better than forsaking their current friends for a group of possible future friends. After all, why reconnect people who are already connected?
Now there may be some new folks in your church who honestly don’t know anyone. People who have just moved into the community or are new to your church might not get invited into a group. These tend to be the exceptions and not the rule. Make allowances for these exceptions, but don’t oversell groups in the process.
2. Recruiting Leaders by saying, “Hosting a group is simple.”
Fourteen years ago, we were introduced to a new strategy to recruit hosts instead of leaders. The idea was that if people would open their home, provide some refreshments, and push play, then they can very easily host a group.
Then, we ran into an issue — everybody is normal until you get to know them (Thanks, John Ortberg for that line). Once people got into groups and got to know each other, we discovered there were a few problems. These issues went well beyond pouring coffee and pushing play. Now, what do we do?
The issue really comes down to how well the hosts were prepared and what kind of backup you’ve provided. Starting with the first briefing or orientation the new host attends, they need to understand when something comes up, they will have a coach to turn to, and not just a phone number. They will also receive on-going training, and not just jump into the deep end and have fun! Something as simple as sending out a short training video on a regular basis to answer common questions or to direct hosts in where to turn for help makes for suitable backup.
The risk of not offering coaching, training, and help is hosts who end up with a bad experience, no group, and no plans for hosting a group again. These causalities can and should be avoided at all costs. Regardless of the whether the church has dozens, hundreds or thousands of new groups, it’s necessary to effectively support them. Otherwise, you end up with the dilemma of disposable groups.
3. Believing New Leaders can Survive Without a Coach.
One of the biggest factors in the failure of new groups is discouragement. The friends who a new leader invites can’t join the group. Twenty people signed up, but only a few showed up. The enemy beats the new leaders up and convinces them they aren’t good enough to lead. Discouragement is devastating to new leaders.
Most new leaders aren’t going to pick up the phone and seek out encouragement. In fact, if they did, they might feel they were confessing a fault rather than seeking help. But, a coach who checks in on them regularly is far more likely to hear the new leader’s need first and respond. The new leaders will be more open with their coaches, since they have a relationship.
Building a coaching structure is the real work of small group ministry. Regardless of the size of your church, if you follow the principles of Exodus 18, you will have more groups and better leaders. Neglecting new leaders is unwise.
4. Inviting People to Join Groups, then Making Them the Leader.
Years ago I came across a strategy where you put prospective members in a room, went through a series of exercises, then at the end of the evening, groups were formed including a newly designated leader chosen by the group. I’ll be honest. The first time I heard this idea, I put the materials in the bottom drawer of my desk and didn’t look at them again for three years!
While I am a huge advocate of inviting any willing soul to lead a group or to do a study with their friends, I have to admit, this idea of walking in as prospective members and walking out as group leaders makes me uneasy. I understand people need to be challenged to step out of their comfort zone. I’m not sure that putting them on the spot is the best way to do it.
In all of our efforts to recruit leaders and connect people into groups, I believe we need to be careful and not cross a line into questionable practices. There are plenty of strategies which will achieve better results that are more forthright. And, of course, launching new groups without a coach is just a bad idea.
There is huge potential for groups and group leaders in your church. And, I will admit, I am a big fan of anyone who will take risks to make that happen. But, rather than focusing on a short term win, we need to look at the long game. If someone gets burned in a group experience early on, how likely will they try it again? Let’s keep from over-promising and under-delivering in groups. Group life is so amazing, there really is no need for shortcuts.
Now, in today’s post, I may have picked on one of your favorite strategies. You may disagree with me. Let me know by leaving a comment. Let’s talk about it.
By Allen White
I’ve made a lot of mistakes with groups over the years, but the biggest mistake by far is launching groups without a coaching structure. I’ve heard small group pastors and directors say a lot of things I’ve felt:
“Coaches are difficult to recruit.”
“It looks good on the org chart, but there’s not much coaching happening.”
“I can communicate with group leaders through video and email, why do I need coaches?”
If you don’t have coaches, you don’t know what’s going on in your small group ministry. Period. Whether you serve in a church of dozens, hundreds, or thousands, the lack of a coaching structure is the beginning of the end for your small groups ministry (and maybe you…yikes!)
You might be starting groups now, or you may have been at it. It’s never too late to begin coaching your leaders. The coaching will look a little different depending on how long your group leaders have served, but everyone needs a coach.
Join me for one of three identical webinars on February 23-25, 2016. For specific times and to register, to go: allenwhite.org/coachingwebinar.
See you soon!
It took me seven years to connect 30 percent of our church members into groups. This wasn’t our first attempt either. We attended conferences, read books, interviewed pastors, and studied model after model. We had more groups than most, but our groups were stuck.
Then, my pastor and I made a decision to join a coaching group and learn some proven ways to do small groups. Within six months, not only had we connected everybody into groups, we also had another 25 percent over and above our weekly adult attendance. Coaching made a huge difference for us.
Over the last 12 years, I have had the privilege of coaching hundreds of churches across North American including some of the largest ones. In the last nine months, churches in our coaching program have started upwards of 5,000 small groups total…and that’s only around 18 churches. A church of 2,500 in Renton, WA now has 500 groups. A church of 300 in Barrington, IL connected nearly 600 people into groups this last year. Some truly amazing things have come out of coaching.
With Allen White Consulting, we want to make these proven strategies available to a church of any size. We want to help you connect your members into groups and keep those groups for the long term by offering high quality coaching. Some churches we work with have paid $30,000-$50,000 per year for coaching. We want to make these effective principles available to every church at a price you can afford. We are doing this through:
Online Courses starting at $97. Our newest course is available for $57 (a 60% discount).
Coaching Groups of 5 churches learning together starting at $197 per month.
Personal Coaching for individual churches (fees are based on the size of church).
I want to help you the same way someone once helped me. Now, I could have continued the cycle of attending conferences, reading books, trying new ideas, starting 10 more groups, but once I embraced the focus and momentum of coaching, we doubled our groups in a day. I can help you step by step toward your goals.
Where are you stuck? I will give you 20 minutes of my time to work through your issue. Call me at 949-235-7428 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Allen White Consulting, Inc.
Taking the Guesswork Out of Groups
By Allen White
Okay, let’s rethink the question a little bit, then we can tackle the issue. Forced accountability is less like having a spiritual coach and more like having a probation officer. Since most group members aren’t working hard to avoid incarceration, making group members accountable is a failed enterprise. The title of that book would be “How to Lose Friends and Frustrate People.” I don’t think that’s what you have in mind. Here are some things to consider in developing group member accountability:
1. Why do you feel your group members need accountability?
Either accountability works well for you or you’ve heard that it does. Whether you’re starting a new habit or forsaking a bad habit, the help and encouragement of another believer can be a great support and motivator. If your group members are asking for accountability, that is a beautiful thing. If you think your group members need accountability that they’re not currently seeking, well, that’s a whole other deal. Proceed with caution, unless you are exercising your gift of martyrdom on this one.
Think about what led you to see accountability was a good thing for you. More than likely, this was a process for you. It wasn’t a gut reaction. You thought about how accountability could help you. You thought about what would work for you. You thought about who would coach you. It took a little time. Your group members probably aren’t there yet.
Give them insights into how accountability has helped you, before you pop the question. Just casually bring up accountability during the group meeting. You might even start with a praise during the group’s worship or prayer time, “I am thankful for my accountability partner. This relationship has really helped me maintain (a consistent quiet time or kept me in the gym or whatever it was.)” You have to show them on the value of accountability.
“But, this will be good for them. We need to just get started.” Imposing accountability on unwilling group members will backfire in a big way. It will be about as popular as the brussel sprouts you serve instead of brownies at your next meeting. Your group members want to grow spiritually. You have found a tool that will help them get there. Now, you have to give them the “Why?” and not just impose the “What.”
2. What accountability is your group open to?
Every believer is at a different place in their spiritual journey. In fact, no two believers walk identical paths. While Jesus is the only way to Heaven, each person’s background, wounds, victories, personality, gifts and passions are very different. What works for one will not necessarily work as well for everyone else. One size does not fit all.
The only accountability that works is the accountability that your group members actually want. They may very well want to forsake a bad habit or develop a good one. Accountability may be the perfect tool to get them there. But, only if they ask for it.
Once your group members have bought into the concept of accountability, there is nothing wrong with asking the group members what they would like accountability for.
3. What accountability has the group agreed to?
Your group has already agreed to some things that require accountability. Your small group agreement outlines each member’s responsibility to the group. If your agreement puts responsibility on your members to let the group know when they can’t make a meeting, then they have consented to accountability in that area. The same with the other areas of agreement: confidentiality, active listening, etc. If someone violates something in the group agreement, then you should definitely ask them about why they broke one of the ground rules for the group.
Tomorrow’s Post: Accountability that Works
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink (Read my review here).