Posts Tagged small groups

Connect Grow Serve is not a Discipleship Strategy

By Allen White 

After examining Jesus’ methods of developing disciples in the Gospels, the speaker on a recent podcast* made this statement– “Connect, Grow, Serve does not compare to how Jesus made disciples.” I would have to agree.

When you examine how Jesus made disciples, he spent about 75% of his time with the disciples. Only about 25% of this time was spent with large crowds. Disciplemaking is time consuming. Disciplemaking is personal. In large congregations, disciplemaking seems impossible. Conventional wisdom dictates that we put people through a process and call that discipleship. But, we’re not making sausage here.

I have tremendous gratitude for those who gave us the baseball diamond, the five G’s, and growth track among other strategies. They gave us a start and connected some of the dots about making disciples. Unfortunately, they didn’t go far enough.

For instance if you take a membership class and sign the membership card, you become a member. But if you take a class on personal growth, spiritual disciplines, or giving, and sign the card, you usually end up with a signed card, but not a disciple.

These are processes. These are assembly lines. But we’re not manufacturing widgets. People are unique. People require different amounts of things at different times in order to produce growth. A process is inadequate to achieve that goal. As Marcus Buckingham once said, “The problem with people is that they’re just never done.”

We frequently quote Acts 2:42-47 as the standard for disciple-making.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV)

This is where the church was at its inception. Now that we’ve had 2,000 years to work on this, why does it seem we are making less progress? We have the same Gospel. We have the same Holy Spirit. Yet, the modern church is experiencing vastly different results. Something is wrong.

What we miss is the part about being devoted. The first century church was devoted.    What are people devoted to? What are believers devoted to? What gets priority in their lives? Is it family, sports teams, political affiliation, or entertainment? I would say that many people are more devoted to their cell phones than anything else (as I dictate this post on my cell phone). But, how are we dedicated to the things of God? Is this once per week, twice per week, Christmas and Easter, when we think about it? What kind of devotion are we asking of the people we lead when it comes to their relationship with God? What is God asking?

So what’s the answer? Do we grow our churches smaller and put less effort into the weekend service? Maybe. Do we switch to house churches and forsake the big box church all together? I’m not sure. How do we change a Connect, Grow, Serve mentality of assimilation and “discipleship” into something that actually transforms lives. (If you’ve got a rocking Connect, Grow, Serve that’s making an impact, please let me know: allen@allenwhite.org).

I believe there is a place for large groups, small groups, and individual disciplines. I also see how current systems of discipleship and even small groups are failing to produce lives that reflect Christ. I understand that people are busy and distracted. I understand that every local church requires a certain amount of time, talent, and treasure to operate. But, what are we producing? What is the return on investment? If you surveyed your church members, do their attitudes and actions reflect Jesus? Are they growing to become like Christ or are they merely trying to cope?

I would like to invite you on a journey to find some answers to these questions. Will you join me? The Disiciple Making R&D Pilot begins on Wednesday, May 9 at 2pm Eastern. Click here for more information.

*Pete Scazzero on the 5 Leadership Questions Podcast, Episode 238, March 27, 2018.

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Multiply Small Groups, But Don’t Divide Them

By Allen White

Photo by 123rf.com. Used by permission.

Multiplying small groups is difficult. Multiplication involves developing leaders within a group in an effort to start new groups. Some methods of multiplication involve group members leaving the group to start new groups. “Multiplication” really becomes a euphemism for division. For many groups in North America, multiplication like this is unwelcome.

Many churches I’ve coached and the two churches I served on staff have experienced multiplication efforts as subtraction. We weren’t multiplying groups. We were losing groups because no one wanted to multiply. Or, more accurately, we were losing the opportunity to multiply.

In my days of handpicking group leaders, pushing an apprentice model, and encouraging group multiplication, I faced considerable pushback. Members didn’t want to leave groups. Group leaders couldn’t identify an apprentice. I ran out of people to handpick. Our groups were stuck with only 30 percent of our congregation connected into groups. Then, out of frustration, we discovered something that worked.

1. Stop Recruiting Leaders.

I have not personally recruited a small group leader since 2004 (and I served a whole other church since then). How do you multiply groups without recruiting leaders? You engage the senior pastor. Whether you hand a copy of Transformation Groups to your pastor to show him how groups can solve most of your church members’ needs or create video-based curriculum with your senior pastor’s teaching, there is no better spokesperson for groups than the senior pastor.

When we created a video-based curriculum that aligned with my pastor’s message series, we were giving our people more of what they already wanted – our pastor’s teaching. When he stood up on a Sunday morning and invited people to open their homes and host a group, we doubled our groups in one day. Semantics aside, we had never seen groups multiply so fast.

Small group pastors and directors at best will recruit only 30 percent of the leaders that the senior pastor is able to recruit. How do I know? After seven years of personally making the invitation to lead, our church had only 30 percent in groups. When my senior pastor made a similar invitation, our groups jumped from 30 percent to 60 percent the first time around. Within six month, we had 125 percent of our average adult attendance in groups. My pastor recruited every leader from 31-125 percent.

2. Stop Coaching Leaders.

Up until the day our groups doubled, I coached all of the leaders myself. In many ways, I had become the “lid” on our small group ministry. The limited number of groups we had at that point was a true reflection of my leadership. As Andy Stanley says our system was perfectly designed to achieve the results we were getting. We were stuck because I was the bottleneck, so I stopped coaching the leaders.

Instead, I handpicked a leadership team of six coaches to help me lead the small group ministry. This felt like a risky move because things were moving so fast that I couldn’t keep up. As their pastor, I had to admit that I didn’t have it all figured out and that I needed them to figure this out with me. They were up for the challenge. We led together, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. They coached the leaders. I led the leadership team. Our groups multiplied.

3. Stop Assigning People to Groups.

There are a lot of reasons to assign people to groups. It’s efficient. It’s easy. It helps to prevent combinations of troublemakers from meeting together. It’s a pure expression of control. Yikes!

Assigning people to groups, sign up cards, websites, and group directories are all efficient ways to place people in groups, but they aren’t effective. The wheels fall off these efforts simply because these are task-oriented approaches in forming relationally-based groups. Do you see the problem?

By placing people into groups, we are setting them up on a blind date, if you will. Most people don’t enjoy blind dates. It’s awkward. It’s stressful. It rarely works out. The same is true of small group “blind dates.”

Instead, when people offer to host a new group, their first job is to recruit people to join their group. By making a list of people they know, praying over the list, and personally inviting these folks, groups filled up quickly and stayed together for a second study. Make opportunity for those who aren’t invited to a group to meet the group leaders and join a group. In a church of 800 adults, we connected 1,000 into groups without sign up cards, websites, or directories. In the churches I coach (both larger and smaller) this has proved effective in forming lasting groups.

4. Stop Training Apprentices.

We broke the rule of attempting to recruit and train one apprentice. I learned from Brett Eastman and Lifetogether to “apprentice” the entire group. Everyone chose a responsibility to host the group in their home, lead all or a portion of the study, bring refreshments, plan outreach events and parties. Potential leaders were much easier to identify when they were put into action rather than picked out of a lineup.

As groups grew, some left to start a new group. There was no mandatory splitting of groups. They just got too big for the houses they were meeting in.

Concluding Thoughts

Honestly, 14 years ago, I didn’t believe this would be my story. Once we implemented the principles I shared here, I couldn’t believe how easy it was to multiply groups. Now, I’ve seen this story multiplied across over 1,500 churches that I’ve had the privilege of coaching.

This could be your story.

Schedule an assessment to get insights into how to accomplish this in your church.

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The Future is Multiplication

By Allen White

Image by Marina Strizhak.

How easily can you multiply your ministry? Let’s say tomorrow you are given the opportunity to duplicate your church in another location. How quickly could you assemble an exact replica of the church you currently serve? What leaders would you need? What budget? What buildings? Could you turn on a dime, or what kind of lead time would you need?

Let’s go the other way. Let’s say your church has hit a low point (or is starting from scratch). You have no building, no money, and no staff. How would you do church? How would you reach your community?

Multiplication is key to mission. The mission, we know well, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV). Did you read it, or did you “yada, yada, yada” it? Maybe read it again.

Simply put, we have Jesus’ authority and presence to carry out his mission. What else do we need? Motivation, yes. Obedience, for sure. Multiplication, absolutely – generationally and ethnically. What’s holding us back? The only thing slowing many of us down is the lack of focus on multiplication. We’ve become skilled at distributing fish. Now’s the time to raise up fishermen.

Multiply disciples

Throughout the seeker movement, we gave people a pass on discipleship. We invited them to sit back, relax, and get comfortable. For the boomer generation who is chief interest was self-interest, this formula actually worked. (Other generations also have similar interests). But then we ran into a dilemma: when we needed people to help, we discovered that everyone had taken us up on the offer to be comfortable. No one wanted to help.

Now much has been said in lowering the bar on small group leadership. Some people despise that thought. But the heart of lowering the bar comes from I thought by Neil Cole where he said we need to lower the bar on what it means to be a leader and raise the bar on what it means to be a disciple. We are all called to go and make disciples.

By allowing members to gather a group of friends and facilitate a discussion with an easy-to-use video-based curriculum (initially), we’re not creating a multiplicity of shallow rooted people. We are helping our people become obedient to the Great Commission. Everyone is called to make disciples. No one is exempt. And yet we have created such a convoluted, unclear method of discipleship, which I hesitate to even call a method, because there’s no systemization to it. We will take up this issue in another post over the next month.

Forming groups is not the only way to align the purposes of our members with the purposes of Jesus’ mission. It’s a start. Often people need a trial run before they can commit to a longer-term role.

The nature of multiplication is that every member should be making disciples of others. Every disciple should make disciples who in turn make disciples. We must multiply disciples.

Multiply leaders

In the church we are more comfortable with managers than leaders. Managers take direction and implement. They make sure a greeter is posted at every door and a teacher is present in every class. Managers follow the rules and do what they’re told. Leaders show the way.

Often we are threatened by the idea of allowing others to lead, because their leadership proves to be better than ours. But when you think about it, this is actually a good thing. After all, all of us are smarter than anyone of us.

As pastors, our role is to nurture and bring out the best in people. The challenge is that we must grow our own leadership and develop trust to the point where we can allow our people to lead without becoming “helicopter pastors.”

A leader is not someone who merely follows instructions, although they should abide by the vision and mission of the church. A leader is someone who takes initiative. You have plenty of leaders in your church. Some of them you have labeled as problems. The reason they seem to work against you is that you haven’t delegated something to them to help them work for you.

You will never be able to hire enough staff to fulfill all of the needs of your church and community, nor should you. But in your congregation you have a wealth of leadership potential that must be tapped. As you develop leaders, they will multiply the efforts of your church and help you to accomplish far more.

The easiest way to identify leaders in your church is by hosting a leadership seminar. You can lead that seminar. John Maxwell could lead the seminar via video. You could host something like the Chick-fil-A Leadercast. You can bring in a speaker. But as soon as you announce a leadership seminar, your leaders will come out of the woodwork.

Multiply your staff

The ability to hire staff often comes with the relief of no longer depending on volunteer help. When the job is tied to a paycheck, we can bring in a more qualified and more reliable person, right? No one has ever had to terminate staff before.

Over-staffing a church creates two problems. First, the hire eliminates the need for members of the church to exercise their gifts and abilities. As one pastor told me, “Our motto is like Greyhound, ‘Leave the driving to us.’” Secondly, and I’ll tread lightly here, the accumulation of staff often changes the role of pastor to managing rather than leading. You must manage their time, their benefits, their progress, and their ROI. Or, I suppose you could ignore and assume. My point is that staff hires don’t necessarily bring about the relief a pastor needs, unless they are able to multiply themselves.

The future requires staff members to multiply themselves. Every staff member – pastor, assistant, receptionist, custodian – everyone should multiply their lives and ministry. In fact, the true measure of a staff member’s worth should not be how many tasks they can perform, but how many people they can develop. Merely hiring more staff will not help your church fulfill the mission and reach your community effectively.

But, if staff members get other people to do their work, what do they do? You can go one of two ways here. Either you no longer need the staff member, or the staff can delegate responsibilities and authority to others thus giving the opportunity for the staff to explore and develop new things. As staff members work themselves out of their jobs, then direct them toward fulfilling Jesus’ mission by starting another church and doing the same there.

Multiply yourself

Maybe you are a staff member, or maybe you are the senior pastor, either way, multiplication is not just the church’s future, it’s your future. How do you grow and expand your leadership? How do you prepare for what’s next? Start by working yourself out of a job.

The easiest place to start is by making a list of all of the things you don’t like to do. Those tasks are easy to delegate. You’ll be amazed to find people who will delight in those duties. Not only can you pour yourself into what you’re best at, but you also give others an opportunity to get their gifts in the game. Don’t hoard your worst tasks.

Eventually, you will reach a place, as the ministry grows, where you will have two choose between things you love. Develop apprentices in these areas. Start with asking them to observe. Then, give them responsibilities that you will supervise. Then, give them the authority they need to fulfill their mission. While you must always check in with them, you shouldn’t micromanage them. John Maxwell said years ago, “Find someone who can do something 30 percent as well as you and let them do it.” The reality is they can probably do it 60 percent as well. The motivation is to engage people in meaningful ministry so Jesus’ mission will be accomplished, and they will find significance along the way.

Concluding Thoughts

Ministry will always have limitations – not enough money, time, talent, or buildings. If your ministry is flush in these things, then you are not risking enough.

If you disappeared, how would the ministry continue? Who are you developing to duplicate your efforts and eventually take over? Invest yourself in capable people who can multiply what you do. Stop fulfilling tasks and bending over backward for “consumers.” Leaders are your legacy.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. Feel free to disagree with me.

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Launch Groups on the Biggest Day of the Year

By Allen White 

Easter is only 12 weeks away. Did I scare you?

Now, you may be one of those pastors who plans everything in advance. Good for you. But, you might be like the pastors at one church I served where Easter always seemed to take us by surprise. How many services? How do we promote? What is our theme? Who is leading worship? How can we get them back after Easter? If those are your questions, you are in good company.

Every pastor wants to see new faces on Easter Sunday, and maybe even a few faces that haven’t been seen for a while. But, once you get them to the service, how do you keep them? How can they be connected? How can new believers be effectively discipled? These are important questions. Let me offer three tips to connecting your Easter crowd.

1. Everyone attends Easter Services.

Easter is the day when everyone who calls your church their home church shows up. Whether they are members, regular attenders or CEOs (Christmas and Easter only), Easter is the day they all come. This presents a unique opportunity for launching groups.

More than any other season, Easter is the time when everyone can hear the invitation for groups at the same time. While Christmas offers a similar opportunity, the end of December is not a great time to talk about the New Year. Your people just aren’t there yet. But, Easter gets everybody in the room and offers a window to start groups and get people to come back on the Sunday after Easter.

A few years ago, we created a video-based curriculum called Hope Rising for Eastside Christian Church, Anaheim, CA with Pastor Gene Appel. They handed out a copy of the study guide to everyone of the 7,000 people who attended Easter series. When it was all said and done, Eastside launched 460 groups for that series. Now you may not have 7,000 people, but you could have 65 percent of your people in groups like Gene did.

While some may have some misgivings about launching groups toward the end of the school year, the reality is when you have everybody present for Easter, you really can’t pass up that opportunity. If you offer these groups a next step, even if it’s in the Fall, as many as 80 percent will take you up on the offer.

2. Bless your CEO’s.

I served one pastor who used to end the Easter services by saying, “And, if I don’t see you in the near future, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas.” We can have a bad attitude toward our “Christmas and Easter Only” crowd, but let’s not rule them out just yet.

When you think about the people who occasionally or rarely attend your services, wouldn’t you like to get them more engaged? Now think about this, who are their friends? Most likely they have far more friends outside of the church than inside the church. That’s great news for starting small groups. If you invite them to do a study with their friends, you can begin reaching people who’ve barely darkened the door of your church. Rather than inviting your CEO’s to join groups with church people, offer them a way to connect with their unchurched friends and do something intentionally to grow spiritually. The group experience will lead them to the worship experience.

At Harvest Church in Byron, GA, Pastors Jim and Jennifer Cowart used a strategy they called “Grab, Gather, and Grow.” The idea was to grab an easy-to-use curriculum, gather with a group of friends, and grow spiritually. Their congregation of 2,500 took them up on it. Some 5,000 or so friends were gathered for these groups. Many of those friends started attending the weekend services as well.

So often we think of groups as an assimilation strategy or discipleship training, but groups are very effective in reaching out to others in the community who may not have a connection to the church, but do have a connection to someone in your church.

By giving your members, and even your CEO’s, permission and opportunity to form a group with their friends, more people could end up in groups than in your services. Groups can become an entry point to your church.

3. Your Senior Pastor is the Key.

The key to launching groups at both Eastside and Harvest was the senior pastors. At both churches, the senior pastor was the spokesperson for groups. Not only that, the senior pastor was the teacher on the curriculum. While there is a lot to unpack in those two concepts think about this: if your people aren’t connected to each other, the reason they attend your church is because of your senior pastor. They enjoy the pastor’s style, teaching, and even the jokes. (One word of caution: don’t mention this to your worship pastor, it will break his heart.)

If your church creates curriculum based on your pastor’s teaching, you’re just giving your people more of what they already want. There are a variety of ways to do this. You could pay someone tens of thousands of dollars to do this for you. If you’re interested in that, I could recommend someone. But, you could also map out your own series, shoot the video, edit the video, write the study guide, design the study guide, and then duplicate everything yourself. That may sound daunting, but some churches are producing curriculum with an iPhone. A third way is to add your pastors teaching to a series that has already been created like All In.

However, you create your video-based curriculum, that teaching along with your pastors invitation on Easter Sunday will create more groups than you can imagine. While you’re in the process of calculating how many lilies and eggs your church will need, don’t miss out on the opportunity to launch groups off of Easter. Not only will unchurched people participate, but the Sunday after Easter won’t see the dip in attendance it usually does.

 

Join Allen White and Jeremy Gant from One Ten Pictures for a FREE On Demand Webinar on Effective Easter Launch Strategies: allinsmallgroups.com

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Something’s Missing

By Allen White

What do you do with the dozens or hundreds of 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 2018. The group of 5 churches will meet twice per month. You and I will meet individually once per month. We are going to figure this out.

The cost is $2,500. This can be paid ahead or in 5 payments.

Oh, and this isn’t open to everybody. To qualify for this group, you must either currently have at least 50% of your adults in groups or you’ve completed Exponential Groups Coaching (or you have a very compelling reason to convince me you should be in.)

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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Beyond Pretty Boxes

By Allen White 

Pretty curriculum boxes appear to be the new hot thing in small group ministry. Don’t get me wrong. They are nice. It looks like Christmas! This tool is a great draw for potential group leaders.

Our church did something similar back in 2004. We had overbought curriculum for the Fall series. I bought gift bags and tissue paper at the dollar store and added the curriculum. No coffee. No bookmarks. No snacks. To be honest, the tissue paper was debatable. I think we made 31 bags. Why 31? Because that’s the number of flavors at Baskin Robbins. No, we had 31 sets of curriculum left after the HOST homes were recruited.

People were invited to grab a bag, gather their friends, and start a group. Those bags went fast. In fact, we had to stop offering them after our second service. They were gone.

The dynamic of group formation had changed in our church forever. No longer were people excited about joining groups. They wanted to start their own group. (You can read more of this story in Chapter 1 of Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential. Download the chapter here).

Launching dozens to hundreds to thousands of new groups is pretty easy in the first six weeks. But, once you have the low hanging fruit, things are a little more uphill from there. Now, you could continue to offer a new box or bag of curriculum every quarter. It can also seem like you’re making progress, since your numbers are up and to the right. In many cases, however, you aren’t adding groups. You’re churning them. (Read more about Disposable Groups). If only a colorful box could make a small group ministry strong.

1. Perpetual Newbie Syndrome

One of the great benefits to the group in a box is that anyone can do it. This method will create a ton of new groups in a very short period of time. I am a big fan of momentum. Get people out of their pews and into their neighborhoods. Launch an army of new small group leaders (or whatever you want to call them.) I am with you.

Groups, however, cannot live by pretty boxes alone. In a recent conversation with a pastor I first met six years ago, I was disheartened to learn that their group launches were keeping their leaders at the level of perpetual newbies. Many of the leaders had started six years ago and took a “box” every time it was offered. But, their leadership had never grown beyond the box. Now their group involvement was declining.

There is a time to delay leadership requirements and extensive training. This helps to get people who never imagined being a leader actually leading. But, there is also a time when leaders need to grow up. Requirements need to reappear. Extensive training should be offered.

If groups are only assimilating year after year after year, they become truly handicapped. What helped the groups to start will not help the groups to grow. Where are the disciples? Where are the leaders? Perpetual newbie syndrome doesn’t get the groups there.

Diapers are great when your kids are small. They’re not so great when they’re six years old.

2. Coach in a Box.

I’ve seen many small group ministries get into trouble because there is no structure to support their growth. If you launch groups well, you will very quickly overwhelm any kind of coaching structure you have (or don’t have). This was the case when we doubled our groups in one day. Our inadequate coaching structure couldn’t handle the new growth. Quite a few groups ended up unnecessarily as casualties. We simply weren’t ready for that kind of growth.

It’s easy to assume that one small group pastor or director or a small coaching team can accommodate the wave of growth that’s ahead. This does not work. If the new leaders are not supported from when first commit to leading, many of the groups will never start. The new leaders will become discouraged or overwhelmed. With no one to turn to or only a “phone a friend,” many groups will end before they’ve begun.

We all know that leading a group is as easy as inviting a few friends and providing some refreshment. We also know that it’s not that easy. Soon we discover that a few of our friends have problems. Some have needs beyond the ability of the leader. They could call the pastor, but if the leaders of your 300 new groups (or 30 or 3,000) all call the pastor, what’s your life going to be like?

Before you distribute a single box for a new group, have a coach in place for that group. It may be all hands on deck with your established leaders. A caring person who is available to coach a new leader will determine the group’s success or failure.

3. Where’s the Next Box?

If you don’t have a next step for the new groups, then don’t take a first step. When people are invited to gather their friends and do a six week study, guess what happens at the end of the six weeks? The groups end.

But, the groups don’t have to end. The key is a new pretty box that appears in the middle of the current study. If they’re new groups, don’t give them choices of what to study next. Just tell them what to study next. If they’re experienced groups, then let them go back to normal.

If you offer a next step as described above, then get the group to decide about going forward before the current study ends. Unless they decide before the end of the study, chances are the groups won’t continue.

Tying a Bow on It

I have no argument with innovative ways to get groups started. I think a group in a box is a great incentive and attraction for people starting new groups. The issue comes when there’s not a plan behind that initial start. Some churches have been perpetuating a low bar of leadership and a quick start to groups for so long that their ministries are actually dying out. What once made them great is now handicapping them. What comes after the pretty box?

 

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Hurricanes and Your Fall Launch

By Allen White

Photo: Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

The timing of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma couldn’t be worse considering when many churches in the Houston area, Florida, and other places are getting ready for their Fall Small Group Launches. If your congregation and community have been drastically effected by these storms, here are some things to consider:

Is Your Topic Sensitive to Hurricane Victims?

I’ve talked to more than one pastor in the past week, who were questioning their Fall series based on the devastation of hurricanes. Both were planning a financial or generosity series this Fall. The timing couldn’t be worse for these topics. The reality is that many people have lost a lot and some have lost everything. The harder truth will come when folks apply for government assistance only to find 1 out of 5 will be declined. People will be dealing with grief, anger, and depression. A financial or generosity series will only rub salt in the wound.

One Houston area church has already called an audible. They postponed their financial series and are quickly putting together a series on hope. They realize their people will need an uplifting message at this point. How are they pulling this off? They are having a study written for them through LifeWay’s smallgroup.com, then they are shooting weekly videos by their pastors which their congregation can access from Youtube. For the folks who haven’t connected their computers with the internet, they might still need a DVD. Just duplicate single session DVDs each week. You don’t need a menu, just insert the disk and let it play. Some churches have even created series like this with a smartphone.

Are You Focusing on the Right Thing?

These storms have left a lot of people with a real mess. Now, while everyone was stuck at home because their workplaces were closed or gasoline was unavailable to get them to work, there were plenty of neighbors available to help each other deal with storm damage. Once people can go back to work, the damage won’t go away by itself. Maybe instead of small groups focusing on group meetings for the next 4-6 weeks, they should focus on group life and serving.

God speaks to us and works through us when we serve those in need. With so much need around us, maybe it’s time to put down our Bibles and pick up our tools. This doesn’t mean the group should never meet. But, for a season maybe the group should follow a different pattern. The community as well as the group will be blessed for it.

Final Caution

From my viewpoint in the upstate of South Carolina, we are getting the remainder of Tropical Storm Irma today. Rain is steady and winds are strong, but we’re not in crisis, even though bottled water is sold out at every store. We are safe and dry inside our homes and workplaces here. If I were sitting in Miami or Houston today, maybe my admonition would be stronger (or weaker).

Please don’t take these thoughts as gospel. You must take your senior pastor’s lead on the best way to proceed this Fall. You can share this post with them and say you found this from some know-it-all on the internet. God speaks to your pastor. He will give you the right direction. This is just food for thought.

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Stop Recruiting Group Leaders

By Allen White

Stop recruiting group leaders. Am I crazy?

If we stop recruiting group leaders, then where will they come from then? From within a group? Maybe. Will they just line up my door and demand to lead? Probably not. Will they just appear from outer space? Definitely not.

In our efforts to connect everyone into groups we forget one basic thing — everyone is already to group. (That’s the premise of my book, Exponential Groups). People are in groups called families or friends or neighbors or coworkers or some combination of those. If our church members would gather these groups for a Bible study, then they are group leaders. As Steve Gladen says, “Leaders have followers.”

Unfortunately these leaders don’t spontaneously appear. They need a little help. They need a little incentive. This is where our Senior Pastors comes in. If we would give the same words we might say to our Senior Pastors, we would have triple the result. How do I know that?

Well, after recruiting group leaders myself for seven years, we managed to connect 30 percent of our adults into groups. When my Senior Pastor recruited leaders, we doubled our groups, then we tripled them. I haven’t personally recruited a group leader since 2004! (And, I served a whole other church since then).

But, how do we get our Senior Pastors interested in recruiting groups? Read more here.

Often our focus in the Fall is to connect as many people in groups as possible. We do a big church wide campaign with the goal of getting a hundred percent or more connected into groups. In order to have groups we have to have leaders. In order to have groups we have to have members. So we focus all of our energy on recruiting leaders and connecting people into groups. Then after the six-week campaign is over we find that we have very little to show for it. We work so hard to connect all these people into group, only to see groups just as easily fall apart.

Stop recruiting group leaders. Spend your time and energy on something that will actually help your groups and leaders last. Namely coaches and training. If you put the same amount of effort into coaching and training as we used to put into recruiting leaders and forming groups, you will keep far more groups for the long term.

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What is Leader Training?

By Allen White 

People hate meetings. Meetings are inconvenient. People are busy. So, we really need to ask the question: What is training?

Training can be a blog post. In fact, that’s how my blog at allenwhite.org got started. I would answer one of my leader’s questions each week and send it to all of the rest.

Training can also appear in your video-based curriculum, if you are developing your own. By adding weekly training to the video, leaders have what they need when they need it as they go through the materials.

Training can be sent by video through an email. Any small group pastor/director with a smartphone, a tablet, or a laptop can record a 2 minute video (not longer) and send it out to his/her small group leaders each week. This is even better than training delivered with video-based curriculum, because you can answer timely questions as they are asked rather than anticipating what questions they might ask.

Yes, we still need initial training to get a group started. This could happen between services or even during a service, but we need to rethink small group training. If leaders are learning through blogs, books, articles, or video emails, then that IS training.

One day I was talking to a pastor who came from a career in corporate training. As we talked about delivering training to group leaders when they needed it, he said, “You know, considering my background, this is going to sound funny, but the best training comes from the person who is proximate to the group leader when he or she is facing a problem.”

Rather than creating a seminar on common group issues and rounding everybody up at the church on Tuesday night, a conversation with an experienced leader or coach at the right time produced more meaningful training. Group leaders are best served when the training meets a current need as they are facing it. Leaders aren’t concerned with difficult group members until they have one. Leaders can be trained and prepared to a certain extent, but chances are they won’t remember what’s given to them if they are not currently facing the problem.

One Sunday morning a group leader who was a former member of my small group came up to me in the church lobby. She was concerned about an overly talkative member of her group and how to handle the situation. I had to laugh to myself because this former overly talkative member of my group was asking her former overly talkative group leader about a problem she was having with an overly talkative person in her current group. Ironic, huh?

In just a few minutes, I gave her a couple of tips on how to handle the situation. She thanked me. After the next meeting, the problem was solved. The over talkative group member felt insulted and never came back. Okay, that’s not true. The group member received the message loud and clear and cooperated from then on.

This group leader didn’t need to wait for the next training to come around, she came directly to me. She didn’t need to take copious notes from my training, it stuck in her head. Why? Because I gave her the training she needed when she needed it. Those are the lessons that stick.

While there is certainly a place for centralized Basic Training, the best training comes from the coach when group leaders need solutions to their problems. Rather than conducting meetings, develop relationships. Blogs and video training can certainly supplement what the coaches are doing, but the coach is the primary trainer. Small Group Pastors and Directors should invest their time in training coaches and developing their Small Group Team rather than overshadowing their coaches and micromanaging group leaders.

The world of training has changed. Online courses are replacing university campuses. Crash courses in some fields are all someone needs to build a successful career. If centuries-old educational institutions can innovate how they train and equip the future workforce, then it’s time for the church to innovate as well. Training tools should be developed for individual leaders through digitally, interactive technology. Groups of leaders can be trained online, but meet individually with their coach in person. Mobile devices, social media, and voice mail have made it possible to literally “encourage one another daily.”

Excerpt from Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential by Allen White. Published by Hendrickson Publishers. Copyright (c) 2017 by Allen White Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Fear Leads to Failure

By Allen White 

People typically don’t find a lot of success in promoting something they fear. They can actually be relieved when they have a poor result. There is less to be afraid of.

On pastor admitted to me, “What if I put myself out there and no one responds? I would be embarrassed.” That is definitely true. The answer is don’t invite people to something you don’t believe in. But, what do you and your church believe in?

First, if you’re a small group pastor or director, ask yourself where does your pastor want to start? If your pastor is more risk averse like I used to be, then ask for your pastor’s help to handpick solid citizens who could lead groups, then promote those groups. You won’t get as far as you would if you threw down the gauntlet to everyone. But, you will get much farther than if you went beyond where your pastor wants to go. Start where your pastor wants to start, then we will see where it goes from there. Once you have the first success under your belt, then your pastor will be open to try other things.

I’ve also seen the reverse. Sometimes the pastor wants to go full bore, but the small group pastor or director are more risk averse. While you definitely don’t want to squander the opportunity, you also have to reach a place where your fear doesn’t impede your success.

A few years ago, we were working with a very large church. This is a great church with a great history of biblical teaching and a solid group ministry, but their groups needed to catch up with their attendance.

In one teleconference, the small group team reported back that their existing group leaders were fearful of the Gather and Grow strategy. They perceived many problems from letting the uninitiated lead a group. Now, part of their concern related to the fact the experienced leaders had paid their dues in the leadership process, and now “You’re just going to let anybody in?”

I said a quick prayer during the teleconference, “God, what do I say to them? This could be dead in the water.”

After I finished listening to the concerns, these words came out of my mouth, “This isn’t a call to leadership. This is a call to obedience, because we are all called to go and make disciples.” The room was quiet. I wasn’t sure what would happen next. Maybe I killed it.

Then someone spoke up and said, “Could you repeat that?”

Suddenly, the light came on for them (and for me). The Gather and Grow strategy was the way to go. The Senior Pastor was already there, but it took his team a little more time. When it was all said and done, hundreds of people offered to gather their friends and grow together using video curriculum based on their senior pastor’s teaching.

I’ve had staff members freak out when their senior pastors have suddenly taken initiative in the staff member’s area of ministry. They’ve said things like, “Why couldn’t we plan ahead on this? We could be better prepared for the response. We could do this in a better way.” Some folks have become downright angry over their pastors meddling in their area of ministry.

If your senior pastor takes an interest in small groups out of the blue, first, thank God your pastor is interested in groups. Then, do whatever you have to do to make it work. After all, you don’t know when this opportunity may come again. Some pastors are strategic and lead with a road map. But, some pastors are more intuitive. Their leadership appears more like a lightning strike. Learn to organize yourself around those lightning strikes and make the most of it.

Excerpt from Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential by Allen White. Published by Hendrickson Publishers. Copyright (c) 2017 by Allen White Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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