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:
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.
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.
Why let your sermons go dormant when they could do so much more? Pastors have lots of sermons. Even as an Associate Pastor over the years, I have lots of sermons, Bible studies, and class notes. What are you doing with those sermons now?
Pastors have lots of sermons sitting in files. Whether they’re in an old school filing cabinet, on your hard drive, or safely stored on Dropbox, your sermons are sitting around. But, as my friend, Brett Eastman, says, “There’s gold in them hills!” You have no shortage of content. But, why allow your content to lay dormant when you can use it to help people grow?
Why Turn Your Sermons into Group Studies?
One of the chief barriers to people leading small groups is they are intimidated by the thought of leading. Or, they don’t feel they are knowledgeable enough about the Bible. Or they don’t have time to prepare a Bible study. On the other side of the equation, pastors are fearful of new, unproven leaders teaching in groups. By creating your own video-based curriculum, you help both of you.
By offering a video-based (or podcast-based) curriculum to your congregation, your members can gather a group of friends, play your teaching video, and follow the instructions in the workbook. You will have more leaders than ever before by removing this one barrier. Now, to help you feel better about letting anybody lead, don’t advertise these groups. People gather their friends. Their friends already know them. They know what to expect. You simply provide an easy-to-use curriculum and an experienced leader to coach them. The coach will both help and supervise them. This doesn’t need to be overly risky.
Create Your Own Curriculum
The formula to create your own curriculum is simple. First, choose a topic. For the broadest reach choose a topic that people, both inside and outside of your church, are really interested in and a topic that you are the most passionate about. Have you thought of one?
Next, gather all of your great sermon content about that topic. Imagine if you wanted to create a series on relationships. You’ve already got a lot of great material on relationships – communication, conflict, parenting, friendship, marriage, the one anothers, and so forth. You probably don’t need as much content as you can probably gather. I helped one pastor create a six-week small group study from two sermons. Each sermon had three points. Each point became a session for the six-week study.
Then, turn your sermons into scripts. The video sessions can’t be 30-45 minutes long. There’s a big difference between video teaching and live preaching. You can engage a live audience much longer. So, why not just gather people midweek to preach another sermon? Well, sermons don’t actually make disciples, but they can catalyze a decision. Create a 10-minute video script to summarize your sermon content for each session. (You can make the sessions shorter than 10 minutes, but not longer).
Next, shoot your video. Hire a crew or a local wedding videographer. Shoot it on your iPhone and post it to Youtube. However you want to do it, just do it. If this is your first video-based curriculum, your people will overlook the quality because they’re excited about receiving your teaching. You can learn the tips and tricks of video production as you go. Just get started and do something.
Once your video is shot, write your discussion questions. I prefer to write the questions after the fact, because the video doesn’t change. Some pastors have preferred that I write the questions before the video shoot. Inevitably, I rewrite the discussion questions after the video shoot. For more on writing discussion questions, check out the Writing Effective Curriculum Workshop.
Lastly, promote your new series broadly, recruit new leaders, and form groups. (You can get the whole game plan in the Exponentials Groups book and workbook). You can either create fully downloadable resources through your church’s website or app. Or, you can create a physical workbook for people to buy. With so much virtual and downloadable stuff over the last two years, people will probably want to hold something in their hands. Services like Kindle Direct Publishing and Ingram Spark offer print-on-demand, so you only pay for the books you need and can order them as you go. Both services are pretty affordable whether you order dozens of books or thousands of books. The price is the same per book.
Think About This
The fall 2022 small group book is coming [LINK]. Use this summer to prepare for possibly the largest small group launch you’ve ever experienced. Producing your own curriculum is affordable and effective. Pastor, your people want more of you. Once their friends can meet you through the video, they will start coming to church!
Video-based curriculum is just one way to repurpose your great content. You can also craft your content into books, workbooks, courses, devotionals, and so much more. If you need help getting started with your project or even doing the whole thing for you, check out Allen-Writes.com for more information.
A frequent question comes up in small group circles. Whether talking to groups of pastors or small group leaders or even in discussions within the Small Group Network, everyone wants to know, “What’s the best study on…”
Let’s face it, whether your church subscribes to a streaming service or you’re just surfing a myriad of choices online, it’s often hard to find the right study. Honestly, who are these new authors on RightNow Media? What are other streaming options? How can you sort through all of the choices to find the right now. No one wants to waste their time and money only to end up with a mediocre study.
TopBibleStudies.com is a carefully curated site created with the input of hundreds of small group pastors. TopBibleStudies.com recommends the top studies in felt-need categories, every book of the Bible, apologetics, spiritual disciplines, doctrinal studies, relationships, and more. Each category lists up to five studies in each category which are carefully chosen by small group pastors and others.
It’s easy to find what you want. Studies are arranged by topic, author, and streaming service (including Book-only and DVD-only options). The list of top studies grows every day!
Join the TopBibleStudies.com Community. Our site offers the ability to rate each study based on a five-star system. Any study that rates poorly is removed from the site. You can also write reviews of studies and even suggest recommendations of the studies you. You can become one of the hundreds of small group pastors and directors who participate. No charge. No obligation. Just rate, review, or suggest as you are able.
Share TopBibleStudies.com with your friends,your groups leaders, and anyone else who would benefit. This site will never charge. This is a service to help pastors, directors, and small group leaders find the best Bible studies without having to sort through the thousands of possible titles out there.
By Allen White Today’s guest is Father Charlie Holt, the Rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and School in Lake Mary, FL. He is also the President of Bible Study Media, a non-profit Christian publisher. He is an instructor with the Institute for Christian Studies and serves as a collaborative partner with Pathways to Home, a ministry aiding homeless families in Central Florida. He and his wife, Brooke, have three children. 1. When I first met you a decade ago, your church launched a ridiculous number of groups based on your size for the 40 Days of Purpose. How did that come about? What happened? Like many other churches, St. Peter’s participated in Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose. At the time we had about 260 people attending on a weekend. After watching the training videos by Rick Warren, our leadership team took Pastor Warren’s inspirational challenge to think exponentially. We added a “0” to our goal of having 10 small groups. So, we set a goal to have 100 small groups and 1,000 people participate. I think the truth is that we didn’t know how big of a goal we had set. We would need 50% of our member households to open up their homes and host a group! The Lord blessed us abundantly, even though we did not reach the goal. What did happen is that 70 small groups were started with 700 participants–that is 300% of our average weekend attendance participating in the campaign! Over 65% of the people who did that campaign with us were not members of our church. We added 30 new families to our membership that year, and our operating budget grew by $100,000. The 40 Days of Purpose taught me the evangelistic power of a small group campaign. 2. As an Episcopal priest, what is the uniqueness of launching groups in a liturgical church? One of the great things about the liturgical church is the emphasis on alignment with the church year. We follow a seasonal approach that walks the entire congregation through the life of Christ. This means that there are certain seasons that really lend themselves to a small group emphasis. The 40-day period of Lent or the Great 50 days between Easter and Pentecost are wonderful times to call the entire church to consider the Gospel in community. A liturgical church is united by common prayer and common practices. This culture of community lends itself to church-wide focus. The challenge is that there are not many small group resources written with the liturgical church in mind. 3. Lake Mary, Florida, where you serve is a rather affluent community. How do you gain and keep your congregation’s attention on small groups with so many distractions in their lives? This is a challenge of our day for Christianity in general. School, sports, and entertainment dominate the families’ focus and time. I believe the key first step is that I personally as a pastor have to model an alternative way of life for the people of the Lord. I need to live life in a small group so I can authentically experience the challenge and speak of it with my people. Another strategy is to expose people to the small group concept in shorter bursts and smaller steps. Introduce people to the blessing of life lived in small group community without overwhelming them. A six-week study is a small enough commitment that a busy person could say yes. But it is long enough to break some patterns. The prayer and hope is that the blessings of life in community will outweigh the curses caused by over-commitment and over-scheduling. Always have a second step to offer for those who catch on. 4. You are the author of the Christian Life Trilogy. Why did you create this series for the Lenten, Easter, and Pentecost seasons? The Christian Life Trilogy comes from a longing and desire to see the heart of the church renewed around the heart of God at the heart of the Christian year. As I said in an earlier answer, I have found it difficult to find solid biblical material that aligns with the patterns of the Christian liturgical calendar. Lent, Easter, and Pentecost tell the greatest story ever! We need some materials that take us through the core message of that journey with Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension purposefully, prayerfully, and reflectively. I pray that the individuals and congregations that use the Christian Life Trilogy materials will find themselves centered on the things of first importance—Jesus Christ, and Him crucified and raised from the dead. Let us die with Him, that we too may be raised to new life and filled with all of the fullness of God in the gift of the Holy Spirit. 5. Now that many churches of various sizes (including megachurches) and denominations have participated in the Christian Life Trilogy, what have you learned about launching groups in a church-wide campaign? In the first year of its publication, the Trilogy had over 50 congregations from various denominations and contexts participate with over 4,000 participants. My observation is that the several congregations that really saw tremendous fruit were the ones that took the time to plan with prayer and intention. The most impactful Church-wide campaigns take several months in advance of their launch to slowly, prayerfully, and methodically build a momentum toward a movement of God. A strong lay leadership team and the support of the church council is fundamental. It takes time to effectively clear the calendar of meetings and other agenda items without alienating your key leaders. If the senior pastor and a strong leadership team are focused with singular purpose on the Gospel and do a good job casting the vision to the people of God, the Lord will bless the effort and multiply His kingdom. God the Father loves it when His people focus on His Son! 5.5 Out of The Crucified Life, The Resurrected Life, and The Spirit-filled Life, which is your favorite? I love the Spirit-Filled Life! It was the most fun to write and amazing to see implemented in my own congregation. I had a parishioner tell me that they thought the Crucified Life would be a tough sell. After all who really wants to pick up their cross? I think that is true. However, you can’t get to the Spirit-Filled Life until you have died with Christ. The pathway to full fellowship with God is through the Cross, Resurrection, and Holy Spirit.