I heard about a research project that Dr. Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay Christian Resources, recently sited answering the question, “What Can New Groups Do for a Church?” The research reveals 5 compelling reasons to start MORE small groups in your church:
As a result of this study, LifeWay is driving a movement to see 100,000 new groups started in 2014. Rick Howerton, the small group and discipleship specialist at LifeWay has as his goal to inspire church leaders to start 100,000 new groups all over the world in 2014. If you’re the small group ministry leader at your church, you should jump on board this movement! You can do this by pledging the number of groups your church will start this year.
Ask yourself the following question, “Do I want the 5 benefits mentioned above in my church?” What if every church leader answered “YES” to that question? We’d change the world.
So what are you waiting for, let’s get started!
Google, the multinational corporation specializing in information worth billions of dollars, understands something every church should understand: circles. Google’s social media arm called Google+ has a unique approach to social networking allowing users to group all of their contacts in “circles”. With Google+ you can organize your relationships by creating any kind of “circle” you want: immediate family, cousins, work friends, co-workers, sci-fi lovers, BBQ fanatics, football junkies, New Mexicans, college friends, neighbors, fishing buddies, etc. The list is as limitless as your imagination.
What does this have to do with church? It’s all about how we think about organizing people. Most churches use some kind of system for organizing parishioners. Hopefully your church has ditched the spiral-bound attendance books and has moved on to some kind of is software. In any case, the systems we use for organizing people reflect how we think about people.
Google+ has a way of thinking about people that can be paradigm-shifting. It starts with two fundamental beliefs: 1) Everyone belongs to some kind of group. 2) Every group needs uniquely targeted communication. On my Google+ account I have circles for ministry colleagues, small group pastors, life-long friends, Star Wars fanatics, family, and so on. It’s a hard pill for me to swallow, but I have to recognize that not everyone I know wants to read my Star Wars related posts. So when I share anything about Star Wars on Google+ it’s posted so only people in my Star Wars fanatics circle will see it. This is different than the Facebook or Twitter style of communicating with simply blankets all of your friends or followers with the same message.
This way of thinking can be a powerful concept for Church leaders because it forces us to think both strategically and personally at the same time. Let’s face it, people are inundated with too much information today. And no matter how important we think our church programs are, not everyone in our database wants every morsel of information we want to send them. That’s where circles come in. Let’s examine the two beliefs I mentioned earlier in a church context.
1) Everyone belongs to some kind of group – At the church I pastor, we are trying to think about people in circles rather than database columns. We call these circles “groups”. No I’m not referring to only to people who attend “small groups”; it’s much broader than that. Every person is a part of some kind of group. In our church management software we have groups for anything we can come up with: first time guests, 2-year-old ministry volunteers, greeters, band members, office volunteers, small group leaders, small group coaches, actual small groups, staff members, elders, high school students, food pantry volunteers, etc. Many people are in more than one group and that’s okay. In order to help make sure no one falls through the cracks, everyone in our database belongs to a group of some kind. Everyone belongs.
2) Every group needs uniquely targeted communication – By “grouping” or “circling” people it helps us strategically organize and target our communication. The word “strategy” sounds very official and business-like. But targeted communication is not simply a matter of strategy; targeted communication is personal. By only sending relevant content to each group, we protect the people we serve from over-information. This allows us as church leaders to demonstrate “You matter to me, so I’m only going to send you stuff that matters to you.”
Here’s an example from the church I pastor: we have a group on our ChurchTeams database called “the radical”. This group is made up of the people who are radically passionate about our church and who have leadership influence with others. Some of them are “officially” leaders in that they lead small groups or serving teams, but every one of them are “practically” leaders in that others listen to them and follow them. When our church is rolling out any new efforts we announce them first to the radical group. They usually get an email with a private video explaining what’s coming at New Life Bible Church. This group loves getting these emails because they hear about things before everyone else. Then they begin to virally influence others before the official news is passed along to everyone else.
Now this is important, so don’t miss it: the people in my Google+ “Star Wars Fanatics” circle don’t know they are in that circle. They just know I like to send them Star Wars related info from time-to-time…and they enjoy it because it matters to them. Likewise, the people in the “radical group” I mentioned in the last paragraph don’t know they are in a group called “the radical”. They just know that I like sending them sneak previews from time-to-time…and they enjoy it because it matters to them.
The reason I’m writing this is simple: learn to think differently about the people in your church and how you communicate with them. Make sure the systems you have in place make this kind of targeted communication easy-to-execute.
Do the people in your church enjoy getting the information you’re sending because it truly matters to them?
Do your church systems make this kind of communication easy?
Does your church software help or hinder in this regard?
This is an article I originally wrote for SmallGroups.com. Be sure to check out their site for more great resources.
Originally Posted 10-10-2013. Reposted 12-09-2013.
My first experience with video small-group curriculum was during the 40 Days of Purpose campaign. I picked up my small-group VHS tape and heard Rick Warren tell me, “If you can read, you can lead, and if you can push play on a VCR, you can be a star.” I was amazed. It was so revolutionary to provide free video curriculum for small-group leaders—and it was so easy to use! I was hooked, and I immediately began asking, “How can I get my next fix?”
So that started me on the journey of creating video curriculum for my small-group leaders. My team and I have made plenty of mistakes along the way, but we’ve also made some great strides. Both our failures and successes have helped us continue to improve our methods. So, based on our experience, here is a step-by-step strategy to help you begin creating video curriculum for your small-group leaders.
Step 1: Locate a Videographer/Editor
While having a staff videographer is nice, it’s not necessary to create video curriculum for your small-group leaders. Ask some of your leaders and volunteers if they know someone within your church who has a video-editing business or hobby. Outsourcing the video shoot and the editing will help you create a quality product.
Step 2: Choose Your Subject Matter
Your decisions about content will determine everything else, so choose if your subject matter will follow your weekend messages, will be a Bible study, or a topical study.
Step 3: Decide the Best Way to Communicate Your Ideas
The simplest approach to communicating your subject matter is to have a teacher from your church simply speak to a camera. With cue cards or a good memory, this can be done in just a couple of takes.
However, I would encourage you to ask if there’s a better way to communicate the subject. Is there an image that makes a powerful statement? Could you interview someone whose story effectively makes your point? Are there props that can visually illustrate your topic? Can you communicate your idea with humor? Can actors tell the story best?
Answering these questions before you shoot will help you produce a higher quality and more memorable curriculum.
Step 4: Select Your Cast
Your first cast member is your teacher, but sometimes you might find it useful or necessary to expand your cast with actors or interviewees. The right teacher should always be one of the best teachers on your church staff. Never just settle for someone who is willing to teach on video. Instead, seek out the people with the desire and talent to effectively communicate your topic on camera.
Finding actors may be somewhat challenging. You can always find free actors from within your staff or congregation. If you are not convinced that these free actors will meet your expectations of excellence, you might consider developing a relationship with a local college theater professor. Students aspiring to act will often jump at the opportunity to practice their art. They might even help for free, but a small fee or honorarium would be helpful. So you may need to put a little extra money in your budget if actors are going to help make your point.
Still, there are people within your congregation who have great stories to tell. Ask around and find out who has a story that will enhance your video curriculum, and ask if they would like to be interviewed on camera. While you are asking questions during the interview, have them start their answers by saying your question in the form of a statement. For example if you asked a man when he realized he had an addiction to pain killers, he should start his answer by saying, “I realized that I was addicted to pain killers when … .” Also, looking straight into a camera lens without appearing uncomfortable is a skill that takes time to develop, so ease your interviewee’s fears by asking them to not look directly at the camera.
Step 5: Write Your Material
The first part of your video curriculum material is the script. Writing a script does not have to be difficult. Expressing your subject matter in 400 words or less is certainly possible. You might simple provide the overall idea to the person doing the video teaching and ask him or her to write their own script.
The second part of your video curriculum material is the discussion questions. There is plenty of material available about writing good questions, so I won’t cover that here. Rather, I’ll hit some of the creative ways that questions can be incorporated into the video itself. Rather than putting the questions in a booklet, you can save the printing costs by simply putting the questions on the video. Also, you should consider including on-screen instructions and tools to make the facilitation of the questions easier. It’s important to make your final product as user-friendly as possible.
Here is an example that includes suggested time, a progress bar, and specific instructions:
Step 6: Piggy Back
Free video curriculum is enticing to leaders, so creating your own curriculum presents you with a great opportunity to tack on extra information that you want your groups to receive. You can insert any message you desire right into every group using your curriculum.
Ask yourself what you would like to train your groups to accomplish. Decide if you need to cast vision to your groups about an upcoming campaign or event. Consider what announcements or marketing you can include on the video. You’re already going to the trouble of making the curriculum, so you might as well take advantage of the leadership and communication opportunities that come with it.
Step 7: Duplicate Your Video
If you have a relatively small number of group leaders, you, a staff person, or a volunteer can duplicate all of the DVDs using a single DVD burner. However, if you have a larger number of groups and creating a regular video series for groups is in your long-term strategy, it would be worth your while to invest in a quality, high-speed duplicator or establish a relationship with a local CD/DVD duplicating agency who will give you a good price.
Step 8: Distribute the Video
Deciding your distribution method is as important as creating the curriculum. Your leaders can come to the lobby to pick videos up each week, or you can simply put the videos online and ask your groups to “stream” the videos. Alternatively, you can post your videos on iTunes and your leaders can subscribe to the podcast—this will save them the trouble of having to pick up the curriculum each week, and it also saves a great deal of money in duplication costs.
Whether you choose to use these steps or modify the approach, creating your own video curriculum is a great way to help set your group leaders up for success.
—Alan Danielson; copyright © 2009 by the author and Christianity Today International.
This article may not be reproduced without the permission of both copyright holders.
Originally posted 04-20-2011. Reposted 11-11-2013.
I get questions all the time from small group pastors.
While these are all valid questions, I have to be blunt: they are the wrong questions.
So what are the right questions to ask? The questions small group pastors should start with are far less intuitive but far more fundamental. Before asking procedural and strategic questions, small group pastors should have a clear understanding of several things (their church’s small group fundamentals):
I can tell in minutes whether or not small group pastors know these things by the questions they ask. If they ask broad procedural and strategic questions first (like the ones listed above), they don’t yet know the fundamental small group pulse of their church. They ask broad questions because they are hoping to throw a bunch of stuff against a wall and see what sticks. This is messy and seldom leads to success.
On the other hand, small group pastors who know their church’s small group fundamentals approach me seeking much more specific information. They already know what strategies they’d like to try because they know the heartbeat and DNA of their unique context. They know what methods they don’t want to use because they know what doesn’t align with their DNA.
So here are some foundational questions that you should understand and ask in order to know your church’s small group fundamentals:
These questions may seem obscure. That’s because they are. These questions can’t be answered for you by another church or by a consultant. You have to give plenty of time and attention to these questions. Here’s why: if you don’t answer and understand these questions first, your small group ministry will flounder. You’ll experiment with every strategy out there and have little success.
Small groups can and will work in your context, if you are committed to asking and answering these questions. They’ll give you immediate insight into every new strategy that you encounter. You’ll know in an instant if an idea fits your church. You’ll know what success looks like and you’ll know what to aim at. Personally, if you aren’t willing to spend the time to answer and understand these fundamentals, I don’t think you should waste your time building a small group ministry. You’ll just be frustrated.
I just received my copy of Outreach Magazine’s annual issue featuring 100 of America’s Largest and Fastest-Growing Churches in 2013. When I opened it I did something this year I’ve never done before: I looked over the list to see who on the 100 largest church list I’ve worked with as a small group ministry consultant and speaker. I’ve worked as a consultant or speaker for 5 of America’s largest churches. Two of these clients are in the top ten, and all five are in the top 50. Additionally, I have good relationships with another 5 churches on the list. On top of it all, I was on staff at LifeChurch.tv for 4 years. Although they no longer report their numbers to Outreach magazine, LifeChurch.tv would certainly be in the top 10.
WOW! As the reality of this sank in, I was truly humbled. I’ve had the privilege of working with some amazing and godly people. While I’ve been able to help their ministries grow, I’m honored to say that each of these churches has helped me more. I’m grateful for the chances I’ve had to work alongside them, to share insights with them and to simultaneously learn from them.
The churches I’ve worked with on the list:
Other friends on the list:
As a ministry consultant I’ve travelled all over the United States and heard pastors say all kinds of things that just aren’t true. As a pastor I must sadly admit that I’ve said and thought some of these things myself. Here are a few examples.
“Small group campaigns don’t really produce long term fellowship and/or disciples.”
“Small group coaching doesn’t work.”
“Online church and online groups are ineffective.”
“Multi-site ministry is not ‘real’ church.”
“Video preaching isn’t effective.”
All of these statements (and others like them) are things we as pastors sometimes tell ourselves so we can feel better about our own feelings of failure and insecurities.
Let’s face it, too often we’re looking for an plug-and-play system or a magic bullet for our ministries. As a result we often look at things that work for others incorrectly and do one of two things: 1) cut and paste it ineffectively into our own contexts, or 2) we verbally bash it. Sometimes we do both.
Verbal bashing is a leadership cancer and all I’ll say about it for now is this: pastors, don’t you hate it when your people complain about your ministry? Don’t give them a negative example to follow by being a complainer about other people’s ministries. If you’re gonna get caught saying something, get caught saying good things about other ministries. ‘Nuff said.
Simple cutting-and-pasting is poor leadership because it assumes that things should be easy. Don’t ever think that way! Ministry has never been easy, it’s not easy now and it’s not going to be easy. We have a spiritual enemy who is committed to making ministry hard. Furthermore, we live in a fallen world. Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden work has been tiresome and difficult. Effective leaders don’t look for magic bullets. Rather, they apply themselves more fully to solving the problems in their ministry strategies. Remember, there are no perfect systems. Every system has problems. Pick your approach and stick with it for a long time. Stay committed to addressing the problems of your system rather than complaining about them. In leadership, resolute focus over time always trumps quick fixes…ALWAYS!
Resist the urge to quickly write a critical epitaph saying, “Here lies a bad strategy.” Instead, do a gut-wrenchingly-honest postmortem of your own leadership and intensity. Instead of making definitive statements when something doesn’t work, good leaders ask personally honest questions. “Why does this work for others, but not me?” “Did I honestly put every ounce of effort I could I to this?” “How could I have led or executed better?” “How can I do this better next time?”
Here’s how to do things better next time: rather than criticizing or copying what seems to work in other ministry contexts, we should study those things and ask WHY they work. This journey leads us the principles behind the practices. When we understand principles we can discern how those principles apply in our own contexts, and make good leadership choices as a result.
Discover the WHY behind the what. Seek to know the principle behind the practice. Then apply resolute focus to creating solutions over the long haul. When we do this we find much more in ministry to rejoice about and far less to complain about.
I sometimes talk to pastors who are frustrated because small group ministry just isn’t working at their church. They tell me about all the great models and strategies that they’ve adapted from other churches, but feel like nothing seems to work. The mistake that most pastors make is assuming that their problem is rooted in a model, system, or strategy. I’m convinced that the problem is actually a DNA problem: the reason groups aren’t working in their church is that their approach to small groups doesn’t match the DNA of the church’s senior leader.
Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois has a great system for apprenticing leaders and creating groups that multiply. I had an opportunity a couple of years ago to ask CCC’s Senior Pastor, Dave Ferguson why this model worked so well at their church while other churches often flounder with the same approach. He said, “Because this church started as a small group in a dorm room with me and an apprentice leader.” His answer had nothing do to with the model. Instead, it had everything to do with their church’s DNA. Their model works because it reflects the nature of their church, and a church always reflects the nature of their senior leader (especially if the senior leader is the founding pastor).
In my four years at LifeChurch.tv I learned that two things in small groups were important to my Senior Pastor, Craig Groeschel: friendships and further exploration of the weekend message. At the time the church was running over 20,000 in weekly attendance and Craig had two small groups that met in his home nearly every week. One of those groups exclusively used questions related to the weekend talk as their curriculum. As a result, we built our small group ministry at LifeChurch.tv to revolve around getting as many people as possible into small group environments where they could discover new spiritual friendships and use discussion materials that connected directly to the previous weekend’s teaching.
When you look at successful small group ministries in any church, you’ll find that each of them are pretty unique. They all have similarities, but each church’s model has been custom built to fit their church DNA. One of the greatest temptations of small group ministry leaders is to simply take another church’s model for small group ministry and insert it into their own context. It is imperative to resist this temptation and instead spend time listening to your church’s Senior Pastor. Find out what really gets your pastor excited about Biblical Community then build a ministry that leans heavily in those directions.
Church leaders have a tendency to cut and paste a model they see working somewhere else. Such an approach might work if the church were simply an organization. But a church isn’t an organization, it’s an organism. A pack of hyenas might see a cheetah successfully kill it’s prey, but will a hyena try to cut and paste the cheetah’s approach to hunting? No. The cheetah uses that hunting method because he’s a cheetah, not because the method works.
One of the best things you can do to build a strong small group ministry is understand the heart and mind of your church. 9 times out of 10 that can be done by understanding the heart and mind of your senior pastor. Ask why people connect the way they do at your church. Ask why certain ministries thrive in your church and why certain ministries don’t. Spend time with your Senior Pastor. Figure our what makes aspects of Biblical community really make his eyes light up. Discover his heartbeat for community. Figure out if your church is a cheetah, hyena, wolf, spider, or eagle then build your ministry to hunt accordingly.
This post, co-written by my wife, started yesterday when we discussed the issue of childcare. Today we’re talking about…
Cliques are not just a middle school phenomenon. They can be a big problem in women’s small groups. Let’s start by saying right off that cliques are not intrinsically bad. God created people to gather and group. We naturally like spending time with people like us. In the small group world we call it the “homogeneity receptivity principle”. That simply means that people are receptive to others that are like them. Thus people bond more closely with some people and less closely with others. In other words: human beings are cliquish.
Not only are cliques not intrinsically bad, but they can be good. We’ve all heard people say, “We just really clicked”. That’s modern slang derived from the word clique. When people “click” they are hitting it off and they feel a deep connection. God created us this way, so when people “click” it’s a beautiful thing!
One of Satan’s sneakiest strategies is to take God’s beautiful creations and pervert them. Cliques are no exception. Satan wishes to distort them and make them ugly and divisive. Thus, cliques in small groups can be very harmful when someone feels left out. Of all places in the world, God wants small groups to be a safe place where everyone can come and experience His love through each of us so make every effort to have your group be one that is not “cliqueing” but one that is “clicking”!! Confused? Here’s what we mean: let’s categorize the connections formed within a small group as “cliqueing” when they have a negative effect, dividing the group and alienating people. Let’s call the connections “clicking” when they have a positive effect, bringing unity, safety, and encouragement. Below are some characteristics of groups that “clique” (negative) and groups that “click” (positive), followed by some ways to help your group “click”.
> Hurt feelings
> Don’t know where you stand
> Always know where you stand.
Ways to help your group “Click”
Keep in mind that it’s okay if your group doesn’t “click” but it’s never okay if your group “cliques”. Here’s what I mean: not everyone is going to click with your group right away. It’s okay if people decide to look for another women’s group to attend. Just make sure that you keep all communication lines open and ask people who leave why. If they leave because they just didn’t “click” that’s okay. But if they leave because your group is a clique then you have some issues to work out.
Remember that an important goal for your group is that people “click”. This is not always easy, but it will be well worth the sacrifice and effort when you see women being encouraged by each other and pushed to be more like Christ. The key to this is total honesty. Everyone in the group needs to feel like they can address the issue of “cliques” any time. In order for this to happen, everyone needs to have thick skin and soft hearts so that feedback can be given openly without fearing how people will take it. Sadly, the opposite is often true: people have thin skin and hard hearts. Talk about this “skin and heart” issue with your group early on to promote total honesty in your group and so your group will “click”.
In 2006 I was asked to do something that I just knew would end my career as a small group pastor at LifeChurch.tv. My senior pastor’s wife started a women’s ministry that had been meeting on campus for 8 years and I was asked to kill it and move all the women involved into off-campus small groups. As a man, I was certain that I was toast!
Fortunately, God was gracious and my senior pastor’s wife was on board with the change. She helped lead the charge and in the first semester of off-campus women’s groups we saw the number of women’s ministry participants double! It was a huge success, but it came only after much preparation.
One of my favorite stories from that change in women’s ministry strategy is the story of my wife, Stacey. Stacey started a women’s group and had a blast, so I’ve asked her to co-write this article and share her insights. This article is about the biggest challenge facing women’s small group: division. Satan loves to destroy the unity of women’s small groups and he does it in primarily two areas: childcare and cliques.
Knowing what to do with the kids can be a challenge for ladies groups because many of them will be made up of stay-at-home-moms and/or single moms. It’s critical for groups to decide up front how they will handle childcare. There’s a great article called “The Childcare Checklist” at SmallGroups.com that will help your group navigate the childcare conversation. In addition, below are some ideas we used at LifeChurch.tv that you can discuss with your group.
These are simply ideas, only limited by your own imaginations. So be creative and don’t allow the beautiful children God has blessed you with to be used as an excuse for ladies not to meet together to do small groups. Yes, it can be a challenge but don’t let it be an obstacle. Talk to other ladies’ group leaders and share ideas. Tell others about the great things that you have done with the kids in your group. Please, please don’t keep it a secret. Share it with others so they can benefit.
One of Satan’s favorite methods for causing division in a small group is disagreement over the question of childcare. Thus one of the most important things for your group to come to a clear and collaborative understanding about is childcare. Not addressing childcare up front guarantees conflict and misunderstanding later. As such, each ladies’ group should determine what works best for them by looking over this Childcare Checklist and the suggestions above together.
Childcare is the first big challenge for women’s small groups. Come back tomorrow to read about the second big challenge.