At this point, you’re launch is either starting, midway, or completed. Regardless of the timeline, you’re not done yet. These four small shifts can help you connect more people this Fall.
Shift 1: Launch a Few Groups on the Spot
Even if your Fall series has started, inevitably there is someone who hasn’t paid attention over the last month or so and didn’t manage to get into a group. They still want to, but they feel like that window has closed. Don’t leave any possible groups on the table, if you will.
Set up a table in your church lobby this coming weekend for those who procrastinated or just started coming to your church. Even if you’re already a week into your series, they can still get started. But, here’s the deal, no one wants to jump into a group that has already started. Give them the opportunity to gather a few friends and start their own group. Some readers just got excited by that idea. Others just lost their lunch!
Take the risk out of it. Don’t advertise the groups. They gather their friends. You support them. You don’t send anyone to the group unless you know the leader very, very well. Oh, and don’t call them a “leader.”
Shift 2: Plan Your Groups’ Next Step
You may object: “We’ve just launched or haven’t launched! Why do we need a next step now?” Here’s the deal: You shouldn’t have launched groups this fall if you didn’t already have a next step in place. But, it’s not too late.
Whether your church is doing an alignment series in January, offering a sermon-based discussion guide, or just recommending a “How to be a Group at Your Church” kind of study, have one (repeat: one) next step in place for all of your new groups. Don’t give them choices. New groups will get lost in choices. Offer the next step in the middle of the current series, then ask the group to make their decision before the current study ends.
Shift 3: Form Your Small Group Team
You might already have a team in place to help you manage the small group ministry. Overall leadership ministry is important, but without a team, the management of the ministry will eat your lunch. If you currently have a team, think about how to expand your team. If you don’t have a team, then make a wish list of your small group dream team.
Your goal is to develop a team to the point that your job is to meet with the team and set the overall direction of the small group ministry. The only way to start more groups and connect more people into groups is to multiply yourself. If you are training, coaching, planning, supervising, and managing your groups all by yourself, you will personally burnout and your groups will suffer for it. Your most important role is to equip others to serve with you. To lead by yourself is, well, selfish.
Shift 4: Make Two Lists.
The first list is for all of the things you learned during this fall launch and all of the things you did well. You want to repeat these things.
The second list is for all of the things that didn’t work so well or things you would do different next time. If your fall launch was just like your spring 2018 launch, then don’t be surprised if you get the same results. Learn from your experiences and move forward.
I just talked to a small group pastor from my 2018 coaching group today. A year ago he had less than half of his adults in groups. Right now, 99.9% of their congregation is in groups. Just a few shifts can radically change your result.
For more information on my 2019 Coaching Groups, click here.
When I started talking about writing a book on small groups, I often encountered a reaction that went like this: “Really, another small group book? What else is there to say?” Truth be told, I would have thought the exact same thing. People who are smarter and more experienced than me had written really great books. What was left to say?
Then, I began to notice some things in the church world. These weren’t hidden things, but there were certainly needs. This is why I wrote Exponential Groups.
I Saw Pastors Who Were Stuck.
Some of these pastors had tried groups and failed. I’ve been there. Others connected 30 percent of their congregations into groups, then once they had the low hanging fruit, they began to spin their wheels. I’ve also been there. Others were stuck at 50 percent, and then others were stuck at 65 percent. Quite a few had topped 100 percent of their congregation in groups for a church-wide study, but then watched their numbers slide once the series was over. That doesn’t feel very good. I’ve had that feeling too.
I remember reading about a chef (stay with me), who through all of his failures and frustrations learned to not only properly make sauces, but also to teach others to make sauces. If the trainee’s sauce didn’t turn out correctly, then the chef knew exactly where the young cook had made the mistake, because the chef had failed at every point of making the sauce himself over the years. This is how I feel about groups ministry.
I remember launching 10 groups in January 1994 and seeing them all end in December 1994. I know exactly why that happened. The same for getting stuck with only 30 percent of our adults in groups after seven years of building groups. (By the way, 30 percent is a very common place for groups to get stuck). And, I have stories for every other place listed above. What I’ve discovered is my education in the school of hard knocks as well as working through the frustration that eventually helped me find success is the most valuable thing I can give any pastor and church. It’s very gratifying to me to watch what was once my ceiling become other pastors’ floors.
I Saw Christians Who Were Comfortable.
Back when we invited people to seeker services, often we encouraged folks to “Sit back, relax, and enjoy the service.” When we eventually came around to ask these folks to serve, we discovered they had taken us up on our offer to get comfortable at church. While this isn’t true of every church and every believer, it is true of many. Comfort prevents growth — personal growth, ministry growth, and church growth.
For the most part people grow when they are going through a painful circumstance or when they take a risk. Let’s face it: we are all more motivated to pray while we’re facing a problem than when things are calm. I quickly realized that Discipleship through Suffering was not going to catch on very quickly. But, what if we challenged people to take a risk? Could they leave their comfort and try something a little risky for a short period of time? More people jumped at the opportunity than I thought possible. There is a way to grow your church and grow your people without wrecking the whole thing.
I Saw a Sleeping Giant and a World in Need.
Our guests became an audience. Audiences must be entertained or else they will find another church that is more entertaining. It’s as if the American church has retired.
Francis Chan said the American church is not “good soil,” but is really “thorny ground.” We live in an age of constant distraction. It’s an era of convenience. Even though people are busy by their own choice, what they invest their lives in typically has little to do with the Kingdom. Why?
For one, they may not know and understand the significance of God’s work. But, as Chris Hodges, pastor of Church of the Highlands, Birmingham, AL said this last week at the ARC conference, “Growth is not an option as long as Heaven and Hell are realities.” But, this leads to another problem — many Christians perceive ministry as another thing to add on to their already busy lives. They just don’t have time. But, what if ministry could be done with the friends they have during the activities they are already doing? Where’s the excuse?
Well, then they might say, “I’m not a leader. I’m not a teacher.” Give them a video-based curriculum. They don’t have to be the teacher, and you don’t have to worry about what they might teach a group of friends. The teaching came from you. If they can gather their friends for the video teaching, then they are leaders whether they give themselves that title or not.
Audiences must be entertained. But, what if we saw our church members as an army? An army must be equipped and empowered. An army must be led. What if we could awaken the sleeping giant of the American church, call them out of retirement, and give them new marching orders? What if they began to depend on God and each other instead of borrowing from their pastors’ spirituality?
“Churches have cancelled their Sunday school classes, Sunday evening services, and some have even abandoned their Midweek service because they have small groups now. How am I supposed to tell people about my missionary work and raise support?” While Fred didn’t say these things directly, this is what I heard. Having started over 14,000 small groups in churches in the last four years, I was more than a little implicated here.
Now, the purpose of our lunch was not a confrontation. Fred and I have been friends since college. South Carolina is his home district, so we see each other every four years when he is itinerating here.
We grew up in a denominational church where missionaries raised their own support. They are faith-based missions. If God had called them, He would certainly provide. Unlike the Cadillac missions programs where missionaries are fully funded and spend all of their time doing the work of their calling, this denomination calls on their missionaries to work for four years, then take a year to raise support. During that year, they are required to speak in at least eight church services per month.
In the good old days, missionaries could easily hit at least three services per week: Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Midweek. But, things have changed. As Sunday evening services and Midweek Bible studies have declined, small groups have taken up the slack. Well, or else, people are attending the weekend service and doing little else in terms of their spiritual growth. Either way, with only four or five Sunday morning services in a month, it’s getting harder for missionaries to get eight services per month. How do they get their message out? How do they raise support?
Feeling partially responsible for Fred’s dilemma, we brainstormed a little over burgers and Cajun fries at Five Guys. How do missionaries reach church members when they don’t have access to them? Since small groups are off-campus in many cases, how can missionaries connect with them? We came up with a couple of ideas.
1. Produce a Simple Downloadable Curriculum for Small Groups.
Without going heavily into a missions message, what could missionaries simply produce and offer to small group members? This doesn’t need to be high production, but it does need to be high felt need. The curriculum could focus on a cause to live for and tell the missionaries story in the process. The topic could also deal with common issues small group members face like relationships, conflict, stress, parenting and any number of topics. Of course, missionaries would also want to include a video or information about their ministries. After all, the small group is receiving free downloadable curriculum from the missionary who sponsored the project. Here are some other thoughts on creating curriculum.
2. Offer a service to the church in exchange for access to their email list.
If the missionary can’t reach church members through a weekend service, then how can the missionary reach church members directly? There is hesitation here in not wanting to go behind the pastor’s back or do something covert. The best way to avoid those issues is simply to ask. How can the missionary serve the pastor and congregation in exchange for one targeted email to the congregation. Granted the missionary could include a hook like a free ebook or another resource to invite church members to join their own list.
3. Pastor – would open part of your services to a missionary?
Most missionaries I know can’t even get through to a Senior Pastor. We all understand pastors are busy, but could you at least take their calls and hear them out? God will provide for the needs of missionaries, but more often than not, this provision comes through local churches.
Now, I understand after sitting through many missionary services as a kid that missionaries need to tune up their presentations. Slide presentations of villagers in foreign lands did not hold my attention as a child. Instead missionaries could hold the congregations for ransom: “If you don’t support me, I’ll get out my slides.” But, there are more compelling ways to tell stories.
Again, video is a huge key — not just to show a video in a service, but also to distribute the video via Youtube and other social media. Tell a compelling story, and people will flock to you. Use Facebook and Twitter to your advantage. Get your message out there, missionaries.
Maybe some missionaries are already doing this, but I haven’t seen it. If you are a missionary effectively using video to tell the story of your life’s work, then comment to this post and let us know what you’re doing. I mean it.
Now, about my friend, Fred Kovach, he leads an organization called Beyond the Borders, which leverages technology to reach people for Christ, disciple them, and train them. Fred and his wife, Crystal, serve as media missionaries with Global University, working with Assemblies of God missionaries world wide to provide technology tools to reach local communities with the Gospel. The Kovach’s also travel overseas to provide technical support to missionary television studios. For more about their ministry, go to: http://www.fredcrystal.com or http://www.globalreach.org/.
Pastor Dean Curry, Life Center, Tacoma, WA shares personal conversations with group leaders to cast vision for groups at his church. This simple short “aside” at the beginning of his weekend message both celebrates what God is doing through groups at his church as well as raises the value of small groups among the rest of the congregation.
In this church of 4,000, Pastor Curry’s first invitation for his members to gather their friends for the Jesus Basics study netted 1,200 new group leaders. While they are still tallying up the final number of groups, the pastor’s teaching on the video curriculum, alignment with the weekend message, and promotion of groups from the platform has created a grand slam home run for this church and has greatly multiplied the groups culture. Stay tuned for more!
The new year is an awesome time for new starts. Everyone is planning to lose weight, lose debt, learn a foreign language, and of course, grow in their faith. The new year is an ideal time to start new groups too. Why not leverage the momentum before mid-February hits and new year’s resolutions crash and burn?
The way you launch groups in the new year, however, will greatly affect your success. While this is an ideal time to form new groups, how and when you form groups will largely determine whether or not those groups last for more than one series, or in some cases, even get started. Here are some mistakes to avoid in new year’s launches.
Mistake #1: Launching in Early January.
Senior pastors love to start new sermon series after the first of the year. While the first Sunday of the year may be for vision casting or giving a “State of the Church” address, when it gets to the second Sunday, they are ready to get their preach on and dive into a new series. This is great for sermon series timing, but terrible for group timing.
If your church launches groups in early January, it forces you to form groups in December. Have you lived through a December at church? No one is thinking about January. If they were, then they wouldn’t be buying so many Christmas presents on their credit cards.
Over the years, I’ve tried to recruit and train new small group leaders in December. I’ve also found myself standing in an empty room wondering if I had missed God’s calling on my life.
People don’t think about the new year until they are actually in the new year. To effectively launch groups in January, you need to use the first three weeks to form groups, then launch in late January, or better yet, launch in early February.
Mistake #2: Failing to Leverage the Christian Holiday of Super Bowl Sunday.
I know some of you might immediately be objecting to associating something as holy and spiritual as a small group with something as hedonistic as Super Bowl Sunday. After all, promoting anything about the Super Bowl will only weaken the attendance of the Sunday night service. At least, that’s the way I grew up.
But, think about this: how would your members respond to the idea of small groups if it resembled something that looked more like their Super Bowl parties and less like what they fear a small group might be? No one calls the church to see who they should invite to a Super Bowl party. They invite their friends, co-workers, neighbors and family members. That’s the same group they should invite to their, well, group. In fact, if groups were launched after the Super Bowl, maybe the Super Bowl party could serve as an “open house” for a group and then the next week, the study could start.
You may be saying, “Well, not every Super Bowl party would be suitable to introduce people to small groups. They might overeat or something and be a bad witness.” These things could happen. But, what if a small group became more “normal” to the average Christian’s life?. That would be a huge win.
Mistake #3: Launching Groups in January without an Easter Plan.
The downfall of most church-wide campaigns, including some I’ve launched over the years, is you can experience great success for 6 weeks, then the whole thing falls off the cliff. But, it doesn’t have to. If in the middle of your post-Super Bowl series (formerly called “New Year’s series”), you announced a next step series which would run between the Christian holidays of Easter Sunday and Memorial Day, you could easily retain 80 percent of the groups that start in your Super Bowl series. By offering a next step, your groups are given a good reason to stay together.
Now, if your church is about to launch groups this Sunday, it might be time to take a timeout and regroup. Call an audible. Do what you need to do before you have to throw a Hail Mary or punt!
If you try this, you should get at least 50 percent of your people connected into groups. If you don’t, call me. We’ll figure something out!