My Exponential Group Failure

My Exponential Group Failure

Let’s connect over 100 percent of our adults into groups in 2019! Have you heard or declared that rallying cry yet? What’s the plan? How is this year’s plan different from last year’s plan, or is it just wishful thinking?

As a small group pastor, early December was usually the time of year for thinking ahead a little. Groups usually wound down into a few parties and the new study wouldn’t ramp up until January or February. December is a great time for discipleship pastors to coast. (But, don’t let this get out or else you’ll spend your time stuffing those little candles into their holders for the Christmas Eve service.)

Cracking the code of connection for 2019 would be easy if the expert’s advice was true. If the group leaders had apprenticed a new leader, then the year could start with twice as many groups. If groups were selfless enough to break up and start new groups, then more people could be connected. If the senior pastor was as excited about groups as about worship, then 2019 could be a banner year. Maybe this is the year for you to make a move to another church…

Everybody wants exponential growth. Few want to make the sacrifice. At this point, you either resign yourself to mediocrity or admit defeat. But, those aren’t the only two options.

Redefining Exponential

The idea of exponential growth lends itself to generational growth. Leaders develop leaders who develop leaders. If this were true, we would have groups, groups, and more groups. I never had that, and yet I connected 1,000 people into groups in a church of 800 adults. And, I helped a church of 2,500 people start 500 groups. But, nobody “multiplied” anything.

I love the idea of exponential growth. I could just never get there. So, I redefined exponential.

Brett Eastman tells the story of a challenge Bruce Wilkinson gave to Rick Warren on the eve of the first 40 Days of Purpose. Bruce had just returned from spending several years in Africa after the success of The Prayer of Jabez. His challenge to Rick Warren and Saddleback Church was to take whatever goal they were dreaming of and increase it 10 times by putting a zero on the end of the number. If the goal was 200 groups, then it would become 2,000 groups. If memory serves me, this was about the number of groups for that first 40 Days of Purpose at Saddleback in 2002. (If the details are a bit murky to some, then please forgive my recollection).

Instead of getting bogged down in the mire of leaders not developing apprentices and groups unwilling to birth/split/divorce, bypass all of this and just put a zero at the end of your 2019 goal. Trust God for 100 groups instead of just 10, and so forth. The idea is to set a goal that is impossible for you to achieve apart from God’s help. There is no sense in waiting five years for your group leaders to fail to multiply. Make it happen now. But, how?

Give Everyone a Promotion

In order for you to 10x your goal, you must prepare to receive what you are trusting God for. If you are not prepared when God delivers, then the increase will just be squandered.

If you are trusting God for 100 group leaders in 2019, then you will need someone to coach these leaders, and it’s too many for you to coach alone. For the sake of easy math, let’s say each coach takes on five new leaders. You will need 20 coaches. Where will the coaches come from? How many group leaders do you have right now?

All of your current group leaders will become coaches. They know enough to answer a new group leader’s questions. As long as their available to the new leaders, you’re in good shape. There is no magic in coaching. You just do the work.

If you’re like me, 20 coaches is a lot to track, so divide that group by 5 or so. This is your small group team. The team, in this case, is four leaders, who have five coaches each reporting to them. You can keep up with four people.

Who do you choose for your team? Simple. Consider all of the leaders who are doing a great job. Who has greater leadership potential? Who could do your job? (Remember, you’re giving yourself a promotion too). This is your team. Now, with a plan in place to coach new leaders to supervise new coaches…

Where Do the Leaders Come from?

It would be natural to assume that if the current small group leaders become coaches and small group team members, then the current small group members would become group leaders, right? Wrong. This is the problem we started with. Few want to give up their groups to start new groups. Don’t get stuck here.

I used to think that in order to have 100 groups in my church, I would need 1,000 members to join those groups. I no longer believe this. In order to have 100 groups in your church, you need 100 people who are willing to gather their friends and do a study together. The focus is on potential leaders, not potential group members.

How do you get 100 non-leaders to lead? First, you give them an easy-to-use study. Video-based curriculum works very well in this case. The person doing the study with their friends does not need to be a leader or teacher, and you don’t want them leading or teaching anyway. You want to give them the permission and opportunity they need to gather their friends (either in the church or outside of the church) and do a study together. Every church member is promoted to group leader. Their assignment is to lead the “group” of friends they are already a part of.

Last year a church of 600 in Baltimore launched 147 groups doing exactly this. If your people can gather their friends, then they have enough leadership ability to start a group. They probably don’t think of themselves as group leaders, so you can keep the terms “leader” and “group” to yourself. How many non-leaders could lead your non-groups in 2019?

What Keeps Us From Reaching Our Goals?

First, if you don’t think your goal is possible, then it isn’t.

Second, you don’t have to. Let’s face it, no one is holding a gun to your head and demanding that you get everybody in groups in 2019. Whether you launch ten new groups or 100 new groups, you’re still going to have a job. Who needs the stress, right?

Third, fear or blame. If I state an outrageous goal for 2019 and don’t achieve it, then won’t I be embarrassed or get blamed for the failure? (This is why you need to work with a church consultant – it’s always the consultant’s fault!).

What’s it going to be – Incremental growth or Exponential growth in 2019? If you’re ready to go for it, I can help you.

Should Groups Take a Break During Christmas?

Should Groups Take a Break During Christmas?

The Christmas season that starts with Thanksgiving and goes through New Year’s Day is pretty intense for Christmas-party1most of us. (Or does the season start at Halloween now?) Office parties, family gatherings, school functions, church services, shopping, shopping, shopping, cooking, cooking, cooking – boy, the list goes on. With all of this activity going on, should your group take a break? Well, a lot depends on your group. Here are a few things to think about:

1. Ask your group. While some people feel that they can barely come up for air during the holidays, others might experience a great deal of loneliness. Even though it’s a busy time, most people are still working every day and going about their daily routine. Before you decide to cancel, see what your group wants to do. If there are three or four who would like to meet, then you might consider meeting. Please note, however, that if your schedule has gone berserk, then it might be good to take a break for your own sake. But, make sure that your group is taken care of. Will someone spend Thanksgiving alone? Maybe a group member could include them in a family gathering.

2. Have a party. There is a healthy ebb and flow to small groups. Most groups can complete a study or two during the months of August through November, then will start again in January. Your group is not “more spiritual” by persisting in an inductive Bible study through the holidays. But, there is more to group that study. Having just completed a study or two in the Fall, your group has something to celebrate. Throw a party. This might even be a good time to invite prospective members and neighbors to check out the group and possibly join for your next study.

3. Serve together as a group. The holiday season offers many opportunities to serve the underprivileged in the community. Homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and children’s homes have a lot of needs, especially during the holidays. While many groups and organizations will help during the Christmas season, the reality is that these groups have needs year-round. Christmas is a great time to introduce your group to serving together. If they are interested, then plan to serve on a regular basis.

4. Give your group the next step. Some groups continue to meet during the holidays. That’s perfectly okay. Some groups decide to take a break. Some groups will follow one of the suggestions above. Whatever your group chooses to do, you will want to announce to your group when you will start again in January. They need to know that there is a next step. Announce your start date and maybe even your new study.

Turn Your Sermons into Small Group Studies

Turn Your Sermons into Small Group Studies

By Allen White

Many pastors are interested in creating their own video-based curriculum. But, they put it on the backburner because they feel the pressure of creating the next Purpose-Driven Life. Let me relieve some pressure for you – that’s not going to happen. There is both good and bad news in that statement.

The bad news is that you’re probably not in line to write the second bestselling non-fiction book of all time (second only to the Bible). But, the good news is you have content. When you think about your sermon files, digital, analog, or otherwise, you are loaded with content. But, how do you repurpose your vast content into curriculum?

1. Pick a Dominate Theme.

What are you passionate about? Look at the recurring themes in your past sermons and series. Do you teach about leadership, relationships, marriage, parenting, spiritual gifts, finances, or evangelism? What topics get you the most excited?

Several years back, we were working with a pastor in Bakersfield, California who wanted to write a book and video-based curriculum on relationships. His small group pastor and his assistant went treasure hunting for past sermons on the theme. They came up with an extra large banker’s box full of sermon files. The content was there. Now, it needed to be organized.

2. Choose Six Big Categories within the Theme.

For a series on relationships, the material could be sorted into “stacks” of topics like Connection, Communication, Conflict, Care…you can come up with two more categories beginning with the letter C. (I was headed toward cucumber and calamari.)

Once the content is sorted, then choose one key verse for each category and a few supplemental verses. I’m old school. I believe a Bible study should be based on the Bible.

If sermons are only available as audio or video files, get the sermons transcribed. A service like rev.com is accurate, efficient, and affordable. (It’s what I use).

3. Get to Work on Your Video Scripts.

Take the six categories and their verses and write a 10-minute script on each topic. Since sermons are often 30-45 minutes, then you’ll need to dial back the content. Videos longer than 10 minutes tend to become passive and will cause group members to zone out. Keep them engaged by keeping the video short.

After your scripts have been reviewed by the senior pastor, then prepare for your video shoot. Take the production as far as you can go. You can’t compete with professional studios, but your pastor on camera is far more meaningful than high production value. Don’t try to out Netflix, Netflix. If you need direction in creating video curriculum, curriculum coaching is available. If you prefer to hire a professional full production video team, check out my partners at All In Small Groups. Even if your videographers create amazing video, small group curriculum video is a different genre. It’s a bit of a learning curve, but help is available.

One word of advice: If you are planning to launch a New Year’s series with your own curriculum, shoot the video in mid-October to mid-November. If you wait until January, it’s too late. If your series will launch after Easter, then you should shoot the video in February. If your series is for Fall, then shoot in May/June, before everyone heads off for vacation. Don’t wait until August, or you’ll be in the weeds.

4. Write the Study.

Once the video is shot, then it’s time to write the lessons. I prefer to write after the shoot, because the video doesn’t change. Some pastors will want to see the study guide content before the shoot. Do whatever your pastor wants to do, but if you can write after the shoot, it will save you from a rewrite.

You know what curriculum is, so I don’t need to explain that. But, as you write in conjunction with the video, don’t ask obvious questions. Also, it’s a waste of time to ask questions about the main passage, since your pastor explained what the main passage means in the video. Nobody’s answer will top the pastor’s answer.

Write questions pointed toward how the group members’ personal experiences connect with the topic. Focus toward application. Your goal is to hit where the rubber meets the road, not where the rubber meets the air. Include some direct quotes from the video and base questions on these quotes. This will show the tie between the study guide and the videos.

If you need help with curriculum writing, enroll in the Writing Effective Curriculum Workshop that starts on October 31, 2018. Professional writing services for creating video scripts and study guides are also available.

5. Designing Your Curriculum.

Before you think about the design, decide on the format(s) for your curriculum. Will you offer printed study guides? Services like CreateSpace/Kindle Direct Publishing offer affordable print-on-demand services. If you use a service like this, download their guidelines and templates to make sure your designer is designing the book correctly. You might also consider your local printer. If your printer doesn’t print books, they probably have a relationship with another company who does. Again, begin with the end in mind. Start with the print specs and make sure your designer has these.

If your church has its own graphic designer, then start bringing him or her Starbucks every day starting immediately. Seriously, allow plenty of lead time. Keep in mind, most church graphic designers are overburdened with projects.

If you don’t have a graphic designer on staff, consider using a member of your congregation who may volunteer their time. Word to the wise: Look at samples of their work before you agree to let them design your book. If their work is a match, then proceed. If not, then a gentle refusal is in order. Even if you decide to use a member to design your book, only commit to one design project. If the person does great work and is easy to work with, then maybe use them again. If the work is not great or if the person is difficult, then count the cost before you use them again.

Final Thoughts

I could write a book on curriculum writing. I have learned a great deal over the years in my time working for Brett Eastman and Lifetogether Ministries. Personally, I have written curriculum for Chip Ingram, Doug Fields, Michael Phillips, and have produced series including The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren. All of that to say, I know the ins and outs of curriculum production. If you need help, I can help you.

If you would like to talk further about curriculum production or writing, please contact me at info@allenwhite.org. I’d love to share more pointers with you.

Serious Applicants Only

Serious Applicants Only

By Allen White 

Is this the year to get serious about groups and disciple making?

Have the small group fads come up short?

Have your people actually changed?

You may be seeing a lot of people connected into groups. You also may be seeing people who don’t have the time or interest to join a group. Your people study the Bible and hear solid preaching, but what do their lives have to show for it?

Over the last 28 years of ministry, and the seven years of Bible college and seminary before that, I have studied how people grow spiritually. It won’t surprise you that life change doesn’t come from more book learnin’. Life change comes from the challenge of obeying God and surrendering ourselves as outlined in God’s Word, the Bible.

Life change does not come from knowledge-based learning along, especially for adults. Life change does not come from assimilating into groups so they can play patty cake. Are you ready to see your members’ lives transformed?

If you are serious about seeing your people grow in 2019, then I want to invite you into a coaching experience. My approach is not the only approach. But, I have figured out some things that will help you take the guesswork out of spiritual growth.

Two different types of groups are starting in 2019: Coaching Groups for Small Group Ministry and Coaching Groups for Disciple Makers. The coaching for Small Group Ministry will walk you through setting God-sized goals, building your coaching structure, connecting people into groups that last, recruiting great leaders, and training according to your leaders’ needs. The coaching for Disciple Makers takes a new/old approach to discipling the whole person (and not just their heads!).

For more information on both coaching groups: allenwhite.org

Join an Interest Meeting for the Disciple Makers Coaching Group on Thursday, Oct. 11 at 1pm ET: Click Here to Register

To talk about your church’s needs for 2019, let’s set up a 30 minute conversation: allenwhite.org/assess

Something’s Missing

Something’s Missing

What do you do with the new leaders you’ve recruited and the groups they started? Why are your groups declining after so much success? You’re not alone.

What worked yesterday is failing you today.

After living for years with the frustration of mature people who were well qualified to lead feeling rather unqualified, we made some radical changes. An invitation to leader training is not appealing to those who don’t consider themselves to be leaders. How do you get them to see they really can lead well, if they won’t even give it a try?

We had to change the entry point. We reversed the order. Training became second. Leading was first, but we didn’t call it that. At first, we asked people to HOST a group: Heart open to God, Open your home, Serve some snacks, and Turn on the VCR…you could be a star! Then, our people discovered that “HOST” just meant “leader.” Now what?

We went undercover. As our people were given permission and opportunity, we invited them to “get together with their friends and do a study.” We were asking them to LEAD a GROUP without using those words. After all, if they could gather their friends for a short-term study, they had the stuff to lead a group. We just didn’t call it that. If the HOST model brought us dozens of new groups, then this new way brought us hundreds of new groups. But, an unintended consequence rose up.

People were condition to both a low level of commitment and a short-term experience. One church I’m working with called their groups “burst groups.” These intentionally met for six weeks, then disappeared as quickly as they started. On-going groups weren’t even a consideration. Yes, people would join groups when a campaign was offered, but the reality was this church was only discipling their people in groups about 12 weeks per year. Sure, it was better than nothing, but it was also practically nothing.

Another church recently contacted me. They’ve faithfully launched short-term campaigns for six years now, but each campaign sees a smaller return. Their groups were in disarray. Coaching was non-existent. The thought of an on-going discipleship strategy seemed like wishful thinking.

A good idea had definitely gone bad.

How did we get here? The alignment series and campaign that helped us rapidly recruit leaders and connect people into groups outlived it’s lifespan. The HOST strategy wasn’t supposed to be the answer to starting groups 15 years after 40 Days of Purpose. They never grew up. They didn’t mature. These groups didn’t produce what they were supposed to.

The strategies weren’t wrong. They did exactly what they were supposed to do for a couple of years. They were never met to go on for a decade. What’s the fix?

We have to go back to all of those things we delayed for the six week campaign: requirements, training, coaching, leadership development, and discipleship training while maintaining momentum. You can’t lower the bar and leave it low. What was delayed initially must be reintroduced in the group leader’s first year! How did we miss that?

I want to help you. I am starting a completely different type of coaching group for 2018. We will explore how to turn our short-term groups into long-term groups and how to put our leaders and groups on a pathway toward growth and maturity. Your people are ready for a challenge. We made it easy to start, but now we must lead them into something more. We can no longer treat all of groups the same. While we will always start new groups with campaigns and short-term experiences, we won’t leave them there.

In this new coaching group, we will go deep on:

  • “Converting” short-term groups to long-term groups.
  • Challenging group leaders toward deeper commitment.
  • Coaching.
  • Leadership Development.
  • Well-rounded Discipleship.
  • A Curriculum Pathway.
  • Small Group Life Cycles.
  • Mission, Outreach, Evangelism.
  • Maintaining Momentum.
  • And wherever else we need to go.

The bottom line is that it’s time to grow up your groups and leaders. What has gotten you this far will not serve you and your church well in the years ahead. Always start new groups. But, what are you leading them toward?

I’m calling this new group: Exponential Growth Coaching. This coaching group will run January – December 2019. The group of 5 churches will meet twice per month. During one meeting per month, we will invite a guest like Mike Breen, Pete Scazzero, Gary Thomas, Lance Witt, and other experts on making disciples. Since it’s a small group, you will not only hear from them, but you’ll have a chance to ask them questions. You and I will meet individually once per month. We are going to figure this out.

To apply for the Exponential Growth coaching group, please fill out this short survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KC8KQ9W

If you have any questions, please email me: allen@allenwhite.org or give me a call 949-235-7428.

I hope you’ll join me.

Allen

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