By Allen White Some pastors treat Super Bowl Sunday like the enemy of spiritual growth. Services get rescheduled reluctantly at some churches. Some persist with Sunday evening services and get very small crowds. I’ve even heard a few pastors over the years refer to those football-apathetic, church-loving types as “God’s Chosen.” After all, the “heathen,” (a.k.a. the rest of the congregation) are at home enjoying the game and probably are watching those commercials too. But, what if Super Bowl parties actually promoted group life? The Super Bowl is a natural gathering time. Friends get together with a boatload of guacamole and other snacks. Cheer for their favorite team, or the winning team if they’re team isn’t playing, and hang out for several hours together. The kids run in and out, but nobody minds. (So much for the childcare issue.) What if your small groups looked more like a Super Bowl party than what people are afraid a small group might be? Groups could be fun, and casual, and fun! The simple fact your people have friends to invite to a party is the first step toward group life. They already have a group! They just need something intentional and interesting to help them grow spiritually.
The Timing is Amazing
One of the biggest obstacles to kicking off a church-wide campaign or even a small group semester in January is that there simply is not enough time to recruit leaders and form groups before the series typically starts in early to mid-January. If you try to recruit leaders and form groups in December, forget it. People don’t think about the new year until they are in the new year. But, what if your series ran between Super Bowl Sunday and Easter? And, even if your semester or church-wide campaign already started, who says you can’t start a few more groups out of Super Bowl parties? There’s no law against it.
It’s Not Too Late
If you haven’t planned a group launch, you still have time. Find an easy-to-use video based curriculum. Ask your members to commit to a Super Bowl Party. Then, at the party have them casually mention they’re starting a small group, if anybody is interested. Instant groups! By offering either a live and in-person briefing or an online briefing, you can give the new recruits enough to get them started with their group. Just cover the basics. Don’t overload them with details. Ask your established group leaders to help by checking in on these new leaders over the course of the study. Each established leader should only be assigned to one or two new leaders, so the coaching doesn’t overwhelm the established leaders own small group. Read more basics about coaching here. I realize I am springing this idea on some of you. Run a pilot. Do an experiment with a few people to see how groups can get started from Super Bowl parties. Try something new, and you could reach your small group goals for 2016!
By Allen White The New Year is one of the best seasons to launch a new groups or relaunch an existing group system. Turning to a fresh page on the calendar motivates people to embrace change. Whether they will attempt to break bad habits or start good ones, this is a key time of the year to launch groups. People are very receptive. But, even in an ideal season to launch groups, you can still encounter some less than ideal factors which can throw off your launch. Here are a few things to think about as you are planning a New Year’s launch.
1. A Narrow Topic Can Limit Your Impact.
Over the years, I have coached quite a few churches who had very different ideas of starting the new year. Some churches begin the new year with a fast. Others will start with a “State of the Church” message. Then, others will dive into evangelism, tithing or some other more mature topic. A while back I asked the senior pastor what his new year series would be. He said, “I’m doing a series on dying.” I replied, “You’re killing me, Frank.” If the goal of your series is to connect as many people as possible, the topic will have a lot to do with who steps up to start a group. One church launched groups with a relationship series and had a huge response. Then, they followed up with a very insider, evangelism series and cut their groups in half. This does not mean we should avoid “mature” topics. We just need to time them right. Capital Area Christian Church, Mechanicsburg, PA, pastored by Don Hamilton, started this year with a series called “Manifesto” to connect his members into groups and get the group DNA started. He followed the series with a broader topic called “Monsters Under the Bed” where his members invited people in their lives to join the study. It worked. Whether you choose an “insider” series or a topic with broad appeal, keep your target audience in mind. While the snacks will be very easy for a series on fasting, it’s really not where most people start group life. And, if you start the year with a giving series or a capital campaign, then forget it. Stop reading this post. Give up on your group launch right now.
2. Don’t start the series too early.
In discussing a possible coaching partnership with one church a few years back, I discovered their preaching calendar called for the start of their new series on New Year’s Day. I mean actually January 1st. I considered turning down the partnership. Pastors like to kick off the New Year with a new series. The problem is you can’t really recruit leaders and form groups between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Believe me, I’ve tried. My pastor would make the call in December for folks to lead groups. I waited in the briefing room after the service…listening to the crickets and questioning the call of God on my life. It just doesn’t work. Most people don’t think about the new year until they are actually in the new year (just like most people don’t think about the Fall until after Labor Day). So, how do you follow the pastor’s lead with a new year’s series and launch groups? You don’t. Now, before you go and get yourself fired, read on. Remember the church who wanted to launch new groups with the series on New Year’s Day, well, they launched the series, but not the groups. In fact, they moved their February series to January 1, and their series with the broader topic to the first Sunday in February. Now, we had the whole month of January to recruit, and then successfully launched groups with a Super Bowl Party. The best time to launch groups in the new year is between the Christian holidays of Super Bowl Sunday and Easter. For some churches that may mean a Lenten series. If your church follows the liturgical calendar, you might consider something like Christian Life Trilogy. Otherwise, come up with a great topic that your buddies at the Super Bowl party will want to study. Now, please understand, before I attempt to direct Senior Pastors on what series they should do when, I do my best to accommodate what they already have in mind. If your pastor has a January launch in mind, then work with that. You might only have a couple of weeks to recruit, but it’s better than nothing. If the second series of the year is more amenable to a group launch, then recruit during the first series, and start groups in the second series.
3. Think About More Than a Single Launch.
The beauty of early church-wide campaigns like the 40 Days of Purpose was the ability to launch a huge number of new groups with broad appeal. I remember an Episcopal church of 260 people who launched 70 groups. (The pastor is also the author of the Christian Life Trilogy). But, the beauty of the launch potential was paired with the agony of Day 41 and the sudden disappearance of the new groups. This doesn’t have to happen. The success of a New Year’s launch is not the number of groups you start during that series. Your success lies in how many of those groups take a next step with a series after Easter. If you can get groups to do two back to back series (12 weeks total), then they are very likely to continue on as a group, even over the Summer. Whether your church chooses to produce its own curriculum, purchase curriculum, or do a combination of things, a New Year’s launch plus an Easter follow up series will give you more groups than you can imagine. And, they will last. What will it take for your church to pull this off? Allen White Consulting Free Webinars Free ebook: Exponential Groups Courses, Cohorts & Consulting