By Allen White
Reid Smith has served churches as a pastor, consultant, trainer, and contributing author for such publishers as Christianity Today’s smallgroups.com and LifeWay’s ministrygrid.com. He has been equipping leaders for effective disciple-making since 1996 and continues to do so at goChristFellowship.com. Reid lives in Wellington, Florida with his wife of 20-years and two children.
Q1: You’ve built small groups in Oregon and in Florida. What differences did you find building groups in these two environments?
The difference has less to do with geography and more to do with the specific church and its leadership. In Oregon, I began working with a church when it was about 300 people and groups were instrumental in helping the church grow nearly ten-fold in 5-years. In Florida, I began working with the church when it was already one of the largest in the nation, and it did not have a well-defined small group system. Although growing healthy group life is hard work in any ministry context, my experience has showed me that it is much easier to start when a church is younger and smaller rather than introducing groups to a church that has more history and successful growth prior to building groups. As a side note, the campuses of our church fall within an area designated as the least churched city in America. Even so, I’ve personally encountered more people coming from churched backgrounds in Florida while Portland, Oregon lived up to its reputation of being one of the most unchurched areas of the U.S. in terms of those who actually showed up at a church on the weekend. Generally speaking, I’ve found it to be much easier building groups with people who are “new” to church in every sense of the word!
Q2: Christ Fellowship seems to be talking over South Florida. What does your coaching and support system for leaders look like across large, multiple campuses?
We have not yet solidified what this should look like. When I landed at Christ Fellowship in early 2008, there were a dozen Community Leaders who were paid a modest stipend. This had to be discontinued due to the economic crisis impacting our country at that time (as it did for many churches) and the coaching system naturally dissolved because there was no strong leadership or organization undergirding it up to that point. In the years that followed, the church navigated many new changes and focused on other church-wide needs besides small groups so we are presently processing what the best coaching and support system should be longer-term. Currently, every campus has a Discipleship Pastor or Coordinator who is responsible for groups at their campus. The team I work with supports our leaders through regular communication, monthly huddles, a leadership blog, and quarterly leadership events where leaders are trained and appreciated.
Q3: Recently, I saw a comment you made in the Small Group Network Facebook Group about starting temporary, on-campus groups monthly, then launching groups off campus. Explain what the first month looks like.
We have a 4-week, highly relational membership class called The Journey where we organize people at round tables (by affinity as much as possible). This is intended to give people their first taste of group life at Christ Fellowship. Throughout this series, we encourage people to move from rows to circles and plug into a small group directly out of the experience. Although we see this occasionally, we’ve found it’s too big of a leap for most people so we’ve created a second onsite experience called Biblical Community that also runs 4-weeks. Similar to The Journey, we organize people at round tables based on when they think they can meet in a group. Unlike The Journey, people know they’re coming to this study for the purpose of joining a group that will ultimately launch offsite. For this reason, almost everyone who attends actually does connect into a new group. Over the course of the 4-weeks, we work through the first 4 of 8 sessions of Andy Stanley’s small group curriculum called “Community.” The second half of the study is completed in the group when they launch offsite and almost all take flight.
Q4: Follow up question: How do you recruit the leaders for these groups after the first month? How are the leaders introduced to their new group? Do all of the members of the on-campus group stay together or do they choose different groups?
All of our discipleship leaders are encouraged to be continually on the look-out for new leaders. Each month, we ask leaders of our offsite groups and onsite studies if there is anyone they’d recommend. We also keep an eye open for anyone who might be coming through The Journey that could serve as a co-leader in some capacity. The invitation for recruitment usually happens from one of our discipleship staff or volunteer leaders. Leaders are encouraged to form their own groups. If for whatever reason they don’t, we use them as leaders in The Journey and/or Biblical Community and each meets their group spontaneously in that initial onsite experience. In answer to the third part of your question, the members of the on-campus group formed at The Journey usually don’t stay together (though that was our original hope and vision), however, members of the groups formed in the Biblical Community study almost always stick together after they launch offsite.
Q5: Second follow up question (or fifth, but who’s counting): In tracking groups formed on-campus, then moved off-campus, how many of these groups have continued? What issues have you encountered with people not moving forward?
I’ll work backwards on this question. The biggest issue we’ve faced with people not moving forward is their history of meeting onsite. Historically, the larger campuses of Christ Fellowship had a lot of classes and programs running on-campus. I’ve found that people who became accustomed to meeting onsite tend to not be as open to moving offsite and ultimately return to the nest whenever we offer something of interest to them onsite. Conversely, those who do not have history with meeting on-campus are much more open to meeting offsite in homes, coffee shops, etc. – they find a way to launch and remain offsite. The tracking of groups that have launched basically holds true to this observation: People that met onsite and saw themselves as a group tend to not stay together after moving offsite. However, most groups that form new and had no history of meeting onsite have launched and continue to meet together. Our data, however, is relatively new on this so it’s far from being book-worthy! Other common issues we have encountered with people not moving forward have to do with one of three things: 1) Over-committed/ crowded schedules 2) Childcare needs 3) Personal crisis.
Q5.5. In most of our meetings, you usually look for me to say something inappropriate. How shocked are you that I behaved in this interview?
Lady Gaga recently sang our national anthem to open Super Bowl 50 and she delivered it with poise and melodious polish; noticeably absent were any of her usual shock value antics. So, to answer question 5.5, in my mind you have Lady Gaga beat by how well you’ve behaved here.
AW: LOL. Reid I appreciate your openness about what is working, what’s not working, and what is in process at your church. You are a smart guy who I’ve learned a great deal from over the years. Your honesty is refreshing. We will need a 5.5 Questions update as your coaching model comes together. Thank you!
By Allen White
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!