By Allen White
Many methods of connecting people into groups fail. By fail, I mean they don’t create lasting connections, which means every time you launch groups, you’re recruiting new leaders and connecting people to new groups. Here’s how this usually goes:
Step 1. A prospective group member turns in a sign up card, or requests a group on the church’s website, or selects a group from a small group directory.
Step 2. The church staff must either place the person in a group or send their information to the leader of an open group.
Step 3. The group leader may or may not contact the prospective member.
Step 4. If the prospective members are contacted, they may or may not show up to the group.
Step 5. If the prospective members show up for the group, they may or may not continue with the group.
Step 6. The Small Group Pastor/Director wants to jump out the nearest window.
At least this is how it’s gone in the churches I’ve been a part of. Typically, each step down the list cuts the previous number in half — 100 people sign up, then 50 are contacted, then 25 show up to a group, and then 12.5 continue with the group. Talk about diminishing returns!
But, this isn’t the worst of it.
In my zeal to connect people into groups, I’ve said things like, “Join a group. You’ll make some of the best friends you’ve ever had.” Yikes! I’ve actually had to go back and apologize for statements like that. Besides most people already have friends.
So, how do we connect people into groups if sign up cards, websites, and directories don’t work very well?
Everyone who has friends should start a group.
“Everyone is already in a group.” That’s the first sentence in my book, Exponential Groups. People have friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives, and others they can do a study with. The people in your church are already connected. They just need some direction in intentionally doing something about their spiritual growth. An easy to use curriculum and an experience leader to coach them will take these leader-friends a long way in developing a “small group.”
If they don’t want to “lead”…
Then, they should join the group led by their friend. Personal invitation is an amazing tool for connecting people into groups that last. Even groups who will be open to new members should start with the leader personally inviting people.
Now, if you have someone who wants to lead a group but excepts you to give them a group, they probably have a teaching gift and need a class to instruct. This will not make for a good small group.
As Steve Gladen says, “Leaders have followers.” Encourage them to bring together their own group.
If they don’t have friends…
A group may not be the answer for them. Okay, let’s face it, counseling could go a long way. But, this isn’t everybody. Some folks are new to the community or new to the church, and they legitimately don’t know anybody. How do they get in a group? If they don’t know anyone, they can’t invite people, and they won’t get invited. Now what?
This is where a Connection event or Sampler comes in. By this, I mean an Open House environment where prospective members can meet group leaders face to face. They may recognize the leader from somewhere or vice versa. At a minimum, they get a sense of whether or not the leader is someone they want to hang out with for the next 6-12 weeks. Once they’ve decided, the prospective members sign up for the specific group they want to be a part of. No cards. No cold calls. The relationship has started. They know whose house they’re going to, and the leader knows who’s coming.
Efficient means of connecting people are not the same as effective means. Usually a task-oriented approach to forming relationally-based groups falls short. Forget group formation as a task. By forming groups in a relational way, groups will outlast how you were forming groups previously.
This last weekend, Tim Twigg, Small Group Pastor at Victory Worship Center, Tucson, AZ, held an awesome Connection event for prospective members to join groups (pictured). As a result of this event, around 500 people were connected to groups. Now, we’ll check back with him on this blog in a few weeks and see how many continued.
By Allen White
Some launches go better than others. Over the last 10+ years of group launches both in the churches I’ve served as well as churches I’ve coached, we have seen some significant progress and we’ve seen some incremental growth. Whether your launch feels exponential or expected really comes down to your grasp of four keys.
1. Is Your Senior Pastor All In?
Having been an associate pastor for over 20 years, I know that if I invite people to lead groups, I will get 30 percent the result of my senior pastor. How do I know this? Well, after reaching the seventh year of my five year plan, I only had 30 percent of our adults in groups. The first time my senior pastor make the invitation, we doubled our groups in a day, and within six months, we had 125 percent of our average adult attendance in groups. Now, that’s not funny pastor math. Not everyone attends every Sunday, but they will go to their group. And, we had a good number of people who had never darkened the door of our church join groups as well.
Let’s face it, if people aren’t connected to each other, the reason they attend is because of the senior pastor. My family is part of NewSpring Church at the Greenville, SC campus. We don’t know a lot of people there, but Kidspring and Fuse are stellar for our children, and Perry Noble, well, he’s pretty amazing.
When the senior pastor stands up and makes the invitation for people to gather their friends and grow, it’s huge. Now, what will help both your senior pastor and your “unconnected” people get on board with groups is creating your own curriculum with your senior pastor’s teaching. Your pastor’s teaching + your pastor’s invitation + your pastor’s message series aligned with the study is a Win/Win/Win. For more on engaging your senior pastor, check out my free ebook, Exponential Groups.
2. Is Your Topic Relevant to Your Community?
The topic of your series will creating determine who is included and excluded in your launch. Obviously, there has been huge success with topics like 40 Days of Purpose by Rick Warren and One Month to Live by Kerry Shook. What is your community, not your church, but the people in the place you live concerned about? What previous sermon series have had an appeal? The right topic will make a huge difference.
A few years ago, I was coaching a church in Baltimore. I asked the pastor what his series would be for the new year. He said, “I’m thinking about doing a series on dying.”
I said, “You’re killing me, Frank.”
While everybody will die, people usually don’t want to be confronted with that reality. It ended up being a great series, but not one to launch an exponential number of groups. Whether you talk about relationships, stress management, conflict resolution, or something else, think about what would draw the most people into the topic.
3. Will Your Coaching Structure Support a New Influx of Leaders?
More groups will stall before the start of a series than will stop after the series. When someone steps up to lead, they have just painted a huge target on their back, and the enemy will try to discourage them in every way possible. They will invite friends only to discover some can’t come on Tuesday night; others are already in another groups; and a couple of them really aren’t their friends. In that moment, they need someone to encourage them or that group is toast.
A few years ago, a couple in our church, Ray and Pam, left a group they loved to start a new group. (I’m not longer in that forced birthing business by the way). I asked them on a Sunday morning how their group was going. They said, “Not very well. We think it was a mistake to leave our group and try to start our own group. We have invited 20 people to our group, and they all turned us down. We shouldn’t have left the group we loved.”
Trying to contain my panic, I said, “Ok, you guys had an idea of what your group should be. Now let’s pray and see who God wants in your group.”
A week later, Ray and Pam called me, “Pastor Allen, please stop sending people to our group. We have 14 people, so we are maxed out.” Now, how many people had I sent to their group. Well, none. God answered our prayer. Their group started around 2003 and continues under different leadership to this day. But, if I hadn’t had that conversation with Ray and Pam on that particular Sunday, that group never would have happened.
Your coaching structure (or lack of one) will be completely overwhelmed by a successful launch. But, you cannot leave those baby groups unattended. They need care and encouragement. Ask your existing group leaders and other mature members of your church to check in on the new leaders weekly from when they say “Yes” until the end of the campaign. This will greatly increase the success rate of your group launch. After all groups that don’t start tend to not continue. For more on enlisting new coaches, check out this video interview I did with Steve Gladen and Brett Eastman.
4. What’s Next?
Now that your head is swimming about what the topic of your series should be, you also need to have a next step curriculum ready for groups to continue. The reason so many groups fell off the cliff at the end of 40 days was because they weren’t given a specific next step. If you send them to christianbook.com or a book store, they will get lost in the choices. Most new groups don’t have a real opinion of what to study next. In the middle of your first campaign, give them a next step to continue their group. If you can get a group to complete two back to back six week series, you’ve got them. They will continue from there with some coaching, training, and direction.
Your success in your next group launch will be greatly affected by which of these four keys you implement. If you go four for four, you can certainly see exponential results. If you implement two of these and neglect the other two, you’ve probably halved your result as well.
If you would like to learn more about experiencing your own exponential group launch, I’d like to invite you to a free webinar on Wednesday, August 5 at 1:30pm ET/10:30am PT. Click here to register. Registration is limited to 25 seats, so register now.
By Allen White
“You should be in small groups” sounds like the modern version of “Everybody ought to go to Sunday school” to many church goers. The only problem is “ought” is not a strong motivator for most people any more. Give them a cause to champion or an environment to connect, but if “ought” is the only tool in your toolbox for connecting people into groups, then they’d probably “ought” to try another church.
If everyone else thought exactly the way small group pastors and directors did, they would all be small group pastors and directors. The problem, of course, is there would be no one left to direct. Face it. People in our churches don’t think like we do. How can we think like them?
When pastors and directors make invitations for folks to join groups, there’s usually a mixed response. Some will join up. Others can’t or won’t. If they were driven by “ought,” they would understand “if you really love Jesus, truly desire to grow spiritually, and want to go to Heaven, then you ought to join a group.” They’re not buying it, so we should quit selling it. Why are some folks resistant to our efforts to get them into groups?
1. I’m too busy.
Everybody is busy. Students are busy. Retired people are busy. Parents are busy. We’re all busy. Busy is not so much an excuse, but a sickness, but we’ll have to save that topic for another day.
“I’m too busy” really means “I have other priorities. I have better things to do.” People have time to do the things they want to do. If you’re getting “I’m too busy,” then they are choosing something else over small groups.
In order to put small group higher on their lists, they will need to demote or eliminate something else. Most people don’t make changes like this unless they are convinced there are compelling reasons a group will benefit them, or if they are in a considerable amount of pain and need support. People who are busy, but generally okay, won’t feel the need.
In order for people to say “yes” to a group, they will have to say “no” to something else. In order for people to make that “yes,” they need a clear and compelling reason to join. If you offer groups for a limited time period, a trial run, and offer groups at times that could fit in their schedules, they might give it a try. But, there are even better reasons to join. Read on.
2. I already have friends.
Years ago, Leith Anderson gave an illustration of people being like Lego bricks. Every Lego brick has a certain number of dots on the top of it. Some have one or two. Others have eight, ten or more. In a person’s life, each dot represents a relationship. So, think about your relationships: spouse, children, parents, other family, friends, co-workers, sports team, book club, parents of your kids’ sports teams or activities, and the list goes on. Most people have all of the dots on their Lego bricks filled. Where do you put a group?
But, think about it this way: how can you help people leverage their existing relationships to form small groups? They don’t need to divorce their friends to join a small group. Their friends are their small group There is great power in asking people, “Who in your life would enjoy or benefit from a group study?” Very quickly, group formation will go well beyond the four walls of any church. Why reconnect people who are already connected?
3. We have kids.
The easier your groups make childcare, the easier it is for people to join a group. Whether the group pools their money to hire a babysitter or rotates responsibility for the kids among group members, this is a necessary part of groups for young families. Once the group is established, then everyone might be able to secure their own babysitter, but especially at the beginning, childcare should be made as easy as possible. For more on childcare solutions, go here.
4. I’m already involved in ministry.
Serving is a great way to engage with the church body and allow God to use them. A ministry responsibility is also a great way to get people connected to the church. Serving responsibility creates a real sense of ownership. But, activity doesn’t guarantee community. This can be addressed in a couple of ways.
Think about this: what are the goals for your groups? Most groups are built on the idea of community around a Bible study. The idea is to create a place where people are known and know each other. They care for each other, support each other, and share God’s Word together. If those are your goals for groups, can those goals be accomplished in a serving team?
This is more than ushers joining hands before they pick up their stack of bulletins, but that could be a start. Serving teams can share personal needs and God’s Word together. This may involve a meeting apart from the serving opportunity. The last thing any church wants is for folks to feel the church only cares about what they do, but doesn’t care about them.
Serving is better than just talking, but a balanced approach is better still.
5. I had a bad experience with a group before.
Most people who’ve participated in groups over the years realize groups aren’t perfect. As Steve Gladen from Saddleback Church says
There are good small groups, and there are not so good small groups. Every group has a different style and personality. One size does not fit all. But, a bad experience in one group doesn’t guarantee a bad experience in every group.
A six-week commitment to one study is a great way to test drive a new small group. If the group works, then they can stick with the group. If the group doesn’t work, it was only six weeks and not the rest of their lives. They can leave the group in good conscience for having completed six weeks and now consider themselves off the hook.
6. I don’t trust other people with my life.
This statement comes from a lot of pain. Granted, there are some people who aren’t worthy of trust. But, when someone globalizes distrust to nearly 7 billion people on the face of the earth, there’s certainly a deeper issue.
Distrust comes from fear. “If I let others in my life, they will only hurt me.” Fear requires a very compelling reason to even think about opening yourself up. If the person recognizes this is a personal issue, then the first step . A regular small group won’t be the cure. In fact, this person’s presence in a life group or Bible study might create a bad experience for everyone else.
When this person has worked through the root issues, then they should be welcomed into a group with open arms. For the present, if the person literally trusts no one, then counseling would be the recommended route. If the person does have a couple of friends, then he or she should start the study with just those friends. Obviously, this person isn’t going to start in an uncomfortable place. Where is a comfortable place to start?
7. I’m wise to small group pastors. They just wants to form groups just to break us apart.
I’m all in favor of multiplying groups, but I’m also aware of some very effective group models from other parts of the world that don’t work so well in North America. People are aware of these strategies. Some have survived them. Others have strongly resisted. Small Group Pastors: It’s time to turn over a new leaf.
What we callously refer to as multiplying, dividing, and birthing groups is translated as encouraging people to develop close relationships only to later rip out their hearts and make them change groups. The positive spin of the term “multiplying” really feels like a divorce.
While we would never want a group to become ingrown or stagnant, unless a group feels the pain of an overcrowded house or a declining group, they are not willing to change simply to fulfill our agenda. To address this issue, simply vow to your groups that you will no longer ask them to multiply, divide, split or birth. Over time, the need will arise on its own.
Look at it this way: the world is fully populated all by natural means. No family needed their pastor’s coaching to fill their quiver. By encouraging the positives of inviting and including others, groups will eventually see the need to subgroup and then form new groups.
8. My relationship with God is personal.
A believer’s relationship with God is personal, but it’s not private. While every believer should experience quiet times alone with God, God didn’t intend for us to live our lives alone. Jesus, Himself, lived a life in community with His disciples. God lives in community as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Before I was in a group and before I was even married, I was a great Christian in my own mind. According to the feedback I was receiving, I was an awesome Christian. I kept away from the things I shouldn’t do and did many things I should. But, back then, most of the feedback was coming from me. I was very understanding of myself. I knew why I excelled at some things and failed at others. Sure, I could have worked harder, but I was tired. I needed to give myself a break.
Letting other believers in helps us to discover things we might have been denying. We also get folks to encourage us and allay our fears. The Bible has much to say about encouraging one another, building each other up, spurring one another on and so much more. Faith is lived out in relationship, not in isolation.
People resistant to group life need help crossing the bridge. Some need a challenge. Some need encouragement. Some need an easy entry point. Everyone in our churches comes from a different place – spiritually, emotionally and geographically. By offering multiple entry points into groups, we can serve their needs for community rather than expecting them to fulfill our need for effectiveness or success.