Easter 2017 Comes Once. Take Advantage of It!

I should make a list of the things that make me angry. At least the ministry things that make me angry. So far, I haven’t turned over a table or anything. But there are definitely things that make me mad.

One of them is when leaders decide to wait until next year. That is a killer!

Maybe it’s happening where you are! It does, you know. As we approach Easter, thousands of churches will decide to put off ministry initiatives because doing them would be a stretch, or succeeding isn’t a sure thing, or it would cause them to have to reprioritize there announcements, or…you get the point.

About three weeks ago I wrote an article suggesting three things you could this week to connect more people after Easter. That article has been read by hundreds and hundreds of church leaders–you probably read it–and only a few will put the ideas to use. The rest will decide to wait until next year.

I hope you’re not waiting until next year!

Here’s an excerpt from my article 5 Terrible Small Group Ministry Ideas to Avoid at ALL Costs:

Waiting until next year.  This is a truly terrible idea!  Every year, every ministry season is a gift from God.  Waiting until next year is what the third servant did in Matthew 25!  We can provide all kinds of rationales:

Waiting will give us more time to prepare

We’ll be better trained

Our foundation will be stronger

Etc.

When we wait until next year we assume that unconnected people will still be around.  They won’t!  Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again.  When we wait until next year we assume we will have discovered a problem-free solution or strategy.  We won’t!  The pursuit of problem-free delays more ministry than anything else.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People? and The Pursuit of Problem-Free.

Forgive my little bit of a rant today. Waiting until next year just makes me angry. After all…Easter 2017 only comes once!

How to Launch a Short-Term On-Campus Strategy (that leads to off-campus groups)

How to Launch a Short-Term On-Campus Strategy (that leads to off-campus groups)

I’ve written about this several times, but haven’t ever put the nuts-and-bolts in one place. This short-term on-campus strategy (that leads to off-campus groups) is so effective it has become a third component of our yearly approach (alongside an annual church-wide campaign and two or three small group connections. See also, How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar – 2016.

The essence of the short-term on-campus strategy

The essence of the short-term on-campus strategy is that it provides a first step out of the auditorium for unconnected people who may be uncomfortable with the idea of an off-campus group. While it is a group experience, it isn’t marketed that way. It is described on our website, in our weekend program, and verbally as a short-term on-campus study or experience.

Keys to implementing the strategy:

Although we are still only 2 years into this strategy, these are the what we believe make it work best:

Timing

Timing: Run the short-term on-campus strategy when it won’t conflict with your major connecting strategies (i.e., don’t run it in competition with your church-wide campaign or small group connection). Depending on when your fall campaign begins, the strategy can be scheduled to launch in October, concluding before Thanksgiving. Another effective window is after your January small group connection and in time to conclude before Easter (keep spring break in mind).

Content

Content: Choose 4 to 6 week studies that are DVD-driven and will successfully attract unconnected people of distinct affinities. Consistently use the same studies every time to avoid simply providing an on-campus solution for people who would rather be on-campus than off (unless you have unlimited space available and feel you can truly deliver the same experience in a classroom that you can in a living room). Always be testing for effective interest in the topics you choose. When you find winners, stay with them.

Here are some of the studies we’ve found most effective:

  • Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage by Mark Gungor: This has been our biggest success and we’ve used it very effectively for the last 2 1/2 years. You can find out more right here.
  • 7 Questions that Rattle in the Minds of Most Men by John Woodall. This is the most successful of several we’ve tried for men. You can read my review right here. You can find out more right here. We’ve also tried Authentic Manhood Volume 1 with mixed success.
  • The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst (marketed as Wise Decisions) and Comparison Trap by Sandra Stanley have been effective but still leave room for the possibility that there is a better study.
  • The New Rules for Love, Sex and Dating by Andy Stanley. Full Disclosure: We have not tested this one yet, but will soon. It looks like a great fit to attract unconnected single adults. You can find out more right here.

Marketing

Marketing: Like every other connecting strategy, if you want to connect unconnected people you need to promote it for at least three weeks. Unconnected people are the most infrequent attenders and at best will only be in one of the three services it is promoted.

In addition to promoting your short-term studies in your weekend services, strategically placing promotion on your website (i.e., not 3 or 4 clicks away from the homepage) and two well-timed emails to unconnected adults will widen the net (Remember, unconnected people are infrequent attenders. They may not be in any of the services you’ll promote the studies).

Registration

These are not free studies. We charge enough to cover the cost of the study guides and anything we’ll provide. Childcare is available but there is a prepaid charge.

In addition, registration also helps us anticipate attendance and plan for it (i.e., number of tables, possible ways attenders will be seated, etc.).

Upon registration a follow-up email is sent to each registrant with details about the study (i.e., what room it is in, what time to arrive, where to drop your children off, etc.).

An email reminder is sent a few days before the study begins.

Room set up

All studies are set up around tables that seat 8 to 10. In many cases, each table will have a number. A sign-in table will distribute name-tags, books, and also guide participants to seating.

Seating

Every study will attract both unconnected people and people who are already in a small group. We DO NOT want them sitting together. As attenders arrive, they are asked if they are already in a small group. Those who are already in a group are seated together. Depending on the study and the size of the registration, everyone else is seated at tables accordingly (i.e., affinity of some kind).

We’ve found that people naturally return to the same table every week.

First session

Our facilitators will take a few minutes to introduce themselves and give a very quick overview of how the study works (i.e., how many sessions, what happens in a session, etc.). They’ll also do a little housekeeping (i.e., where are the restrooms, it’s okay to get up and go to the restroom or get a refill on coffee, etc.).

If the study you are using doesn’t do it already, be sure and build in a good get-to-know-you question or two at the very beginning (i.e., How’d you get to Canyon Ridge the first time and what made you come back? What prompted you to sign up for this study? What do you hope to get out of it?).

Typically, a good set-up question or two will allow you to jump right into watching the DVD segment. If the DVD segment has a fill-in-the-blank component be sure and leave enough lighting to make that possible.

After the DVD segment it will be time for the study discussion to begin. Our facilitators set this up by having everyone turn to the correct page and then giving quick instructions on how to get started. Depending on the study, it may require more of the facilitator. Typically, table groups are able to work well with  simple instructions (i.e., “Take some time and work your way through questions 2 through 6. If I see you’re stuck I’ll pop over and get you going again.”)

Finishing session one

Depending on the study, there may be a question or two that point to praying together. Use your judgement to decide how to play that element. We usually give some instructions for the week ahead and then close the session with prayer. I’ve begun experimenting with having the participants share a prayer request related to the topic and having everyone write down the prayer requests on the back page of their study guides. That has already prompted some interesting outcomes.

Sessions two thru ?

Every session of your study will require slightly less facilitation. By the time you get to session 4, everyone will automatically arrive and sit down at their table and begin talking. The facilitator will be able to interrupt very briefly and welcome everyone before starting the DVD. When the DVD segment ends the facilitator will be able to give any specifics about the session but remain in the background.

No later than the second to last session, your facilitator will set up the possibility of the group continuing to meet. Choose a follow-up study that makes sense for the group (for example, the follow-up study for Laugh Your Way might be Andy Stanley’s iMarriage). Have a table with sample study guides and a laptop to play the DVD before and after the session. Do this both of the last two weeks.

While the specific instructions may vary slightly, here’s the essence of what we say,

“We’ve noticed that you guys are really hitting it off well. It’s very common for our Laugh Your Way tables to decide to continue meeting as a group. If you’d like to do that, we’d like to help you. You can’t do it here, there isn’t room on-campus. Most groups that decide to continue simply choose a home to begin meeting in and pick up right where they left off. Why don’t you think about it this week and we’ll talk more about it next week.”

Final Session

Like the second to last session, a focus of the final session to help any groups that want to continue successfully transition to an off-campus group. We assign them a coach (who is typically there so they can meet in person). We provide the DVD (or access to RightNow Media) and sell them the study guides.

Further Reading:

Overview: Here Are Our Four Strategies for Launching New Groups

Over the last several years we’ve identified four key strategies for launching new groups. Two of the four strategies are very up-front and explicitly invite unconnected people to “join a six-week life group.”

Strategies that launch off-campus groups:

  • An annual church-wide campaign, usually in the fall, allows us to really leverage our senior pastor’s influence and invite our whole congregation into a single conversation. The church-wide campaign strategy provides an effective way to invite another wave of unconnected people to start a new group with a couple friends or join a new group that is forming.
  • We hold two or three small group connections every year. Both in conjunction with a church-wide campaign and completely separate, a small group connection makes it possible to invite large numbers of unconnected people to an event that forms new groups and identifies new leaders.

Strategies that launch short-term on-campus groups*

*Our short-term on-campus strategies launch table groups that are 4 to 6 weeks long and are designed to lead to off-campus groups.

The other two core strategies take advantage of a less up-front approach. That is, they aren’t really promoted as life groups. Instead, they are promoted as on-campus opportunities or experiences. We believe people who aren’t ready to join a group that meets off-campus will often sign up for an on-campus study.

Both of our on-campus strategies are short-term (4 to 6 weeks) and carefully orchestrated to lead to off-campus groups. Attendees are seated at tables by affinity. The selected studies generate great discussion. Table leaders naturally emerge over the first couple weeks. We begin introducing the idea that “they may want to continue meeting off-campus after the study is over” in about week three or four (i.e., “You may be having so much fun together you’d like to keep meeting. We’d love to help you do that. You just can’t meet here!”).

  • A slate of short-term on-campus opportunities is offered a couple times a year. The studies we offer are carefully selected, featuring topics we believe will appeal to unconnected people. We typically offer separate studies designed to appeal to couples, men and women. Mark Gungor’s Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage attracts a roomful every time we offer it. We’ve tried Authentic Manhood, 7 Questions, and Act Like a Man for guys and Frazzled Female, The Best Yes and Comparison Trap for women (but are still searching for the best topics for men and women). We plan to try The New Rules of Love, Sex and Dating for single adults later this summer.
  • We’ve offered a “book club” approach both of the last two summers (and even called it a book club for women). Our best sign-up happened when we offered Bad Girls of the Bible and Act Like a Man.

Takeaway on our four strategies:

Taking advantage of several strategies allows us to specifically target several types of unconnected people every year. Ranging from the very overt and up-front approach of the church-wide campaign and small group connection to the more stealthy approach of the book clubs or short-term on-campus opportunities, we can successfully connect a broad range of unconnected people.

Further Reading:

3 Things You Can Do This Week to Connect More People After Easter

3 Things You Can Do This Week to Connect More People After Easter

There are three ideal times to connect unconnected people every year. In most churches, late September/early October has the most potential followed by late January/early February.

A couple weeks after Easter presents a third very promising option to connect unconnected people. It’s not problem-free, but the reality is every season comes with its own set of problems. Even with the problems that come with launching new groups in late April/early May, it is still a very promising window of opportunity.

All that to say, here are 3 things you can do right now to connect more unconnected people after Easter.

Schedule a small group connection on April 30th

Schedule a small group connection on April 30th. If you begin promoting the small group connection on Palm Sunday, you can collect sign-ups on 4/9, 4/16, and 4/23 and then hold it on 4/30.

Holding the small group connection on the 30th allows your new groups to begin meeting and finish a six-week study in mid June (a couple weeks later than ideal, but it is what it is).

Choose a starter study on a topic that matters to unconnected people (and ideally goes along with your message series, which has also been selected to draw back infrequent attenders).

Plan to help your new groups continue by pre-selecting a follow-up study and providing them a strategy for surviving the summer.

Need help putting on a small group connection? See also, How to Launch New Groups with a Small Group Connection – 2016 and Here’s How I Lead a Small Group Connection.

Plan a set of short-term on-campus studies (that lead to off-campus studies) the week of April 30th

Plan a set of short-term on-campus studies (that lead to off-campus studies) the week of April 30th. For example, scheduling a study like Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage will attract unconnected couples. Examples of other study options might be Comparison Trap for women, Authentic Manhood for men, and The New Rules of Love, Sex and Dating for singles.

Facilitated around tables, this strategy allows attendees to experience the benefits of a group with the safety of an on-campus first step. Providing them a natural follow-up study to be done off-campus will encourage many groups to continue.

One key is to choose study topics that appeal to unconnected people. Another key is to choose studies that are DVD-driven and naturally prompt (or provoke) a good discussion. DVD-driven (as opposed to something that involves live teaching) allows participants to easier imagine continuing to meet without the live teacher.

A final key to leveraging this strategy for all it’s worth is to be sure and segregate those already in a group from those who are not yet in a group. When you come to the end of the six weeks you don’t want anyone at any table offering the excuse, “I’d like to continue with you, but I’m already in a group.”

A good facilitator/emcee can get each session off to a good start, set up the DVD segment, and then help discussion begin around the tables. Typically, de facto table leaders will emerge by the second session.

Plan to begin mentioning the possibility of continuing to meet after the six-week study concludes in about week four. A table displaying a well-chosen follow-up study with the DVD playing and sample study guides set out for examination before and after week five will further encourage many table groups to consider continuing to meet.

See also, Breaking: North Point Increases GroupLife Participation by Adding an Easier Next Step and Take Advantage of This Short-Term On-Campus Strategy.

Plan a church-wide campaign that begins the week after Easter

Plan a church-wide campaign that begins the week after Easter. The right series will provide an excellent comeback incentive for unconnected people. Making it easy for unconnected people to join a new group or even invite a couple friends to join them in doing the study will give many the first step into community they need.

Again, it is critical to choose a series that will actually appeal to unconnected people, but there are a number of very good options. See also, Top 5 Church-Wide Campaigns for 2017.

If you pull the trigger quickly, you can begin recruiting HOSTs before Easter and then recruit unconnected people to sign up for and attend a small group connection the Sunday after Easter.

See also, How to Maximize Your Church-Wide Campaign.

Is Point of View Hiding the Answer to Your Problem?

Is Point of View Hiding the Answer to Your Problem?

One of my favorite quotes, so packed with insight, is that “perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”  Coined by the brilliant Alan Kay, this quote reminds us that identifying the best answer to a problem is directly related to perspective or point-of-view.

I like to say, don’t be surprised that you never see a better way of doing something if you never walk around and look at it from another angle.

When I’m on a consulting engagement, I frequently act out looking at something from another angle by physically walking around something and pointing out how different it looks from another angle.

Perspective, or point of view, is worth 80 IQ points.

This is why I often caution against simply adopting wholesale the small group ministry solutions of another, even a very successful small group ministry.

You must keep in mind that the success you observe from afar is based on circumstances and realities that aren’t true where you are.

“Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”  What insurmountable challenge would become a thing of the past if you only changed your perspective?

Further Reading:

10 Assumptions that Shape My Small Group Ministry Strategy

10 Ideas that Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry

Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions

5 Questions You Should Be Asking When Choosing a Small Group Model

6 Questions We Should All Be Asking

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A New Strategy We’re Testing

testingA New Strategy We’re Testing

We’re testing a new strategy at Canyon Ridge I thought you might want to know about.

Here’s the basic concept

The basic concept of the strategy is based on this question*:

Since our weekend message series are conceived and developed to move our congregation in a certain direction, could we identify (or create) next steps that can more naturally be promoted as the best next step (based on the content of our weekend message series)?

See where this is going?

When you think about your church’s normal plateful of events, programs, and activities and the tremendous pressure applied by every ministry owner and their constituents to promote their events, programs and activities from the stage…

I think you see where this is going. Right?

Forget the push from every ministry, program, event, and activity to promote their thing.

Sometimes it’s difficult to promote strategically important next steps naturally in the sermon or even in the announcements when what you’re promoting seems to come from left field. For instance, when you’d like to take advantage of your senior pastor’s influence by having him mention the upcoming small group connection in his message…but his message is on having an impact in the world.

Now…honestly, there is a little chicken and the egg going on here, but I think you see where I’m going.

An example of the new strategy at work:

Remember, the essence of the new strategy is to identify (or create) next steps that can more naturally be promoted as the best next step (based on the content of our weekend message series).

Two tracks to look at:

On the weekend message series track: Our current message series is called Margin and the four messages will unpack the need for financial, calendar, and relational margin. We began 2017 with a series called Impact: Be One. Have One. Our teaching team felt it made sense for the following series to be on having enough margin to include the most important things in life (that often get crowded out by a lack of financial, relational, or calendar margin).

On the providing the best next step track: At the same time, our Groups team hoped to promote a short-term on-campus strategy (that leads to off-campus groups) in order to connect unconnected people. We had planned to offer three options: Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage, Authentic Manhood, and Comparison Trap (for women), promote them via announcements, sermon mentions, website content and church-wide emails and generate sign-ups with a bulletin insert. We’ve done this for three years running and it’s been reasonably effective. You can find out more about this strategy right here.

Where the new idea comes in: In order to take advantage of the natural momentum of the current message series on margin, we’re highlighting a short-term on-campus study called Simplify by Bill Hybels. We’re mentioning Simplify in both our weekend messages themselves and the announcements because it is a natural next step that can be promoted out of the margin series. The original three options (i.e., Laugh Your Way, etc.) will be promoted on the back side of the bulletin insert.

Can you see it? I’ll keep you posted as we test the new idea. It feels like a good step to me.

*Note: We are always asking questions about what we’ve just finished doing, currently doing or thinking about doing next. See the further reading for some of the best questions we ask.

What do you think?  Have a question?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Further Reading:

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What Would You Say to Your First Year in Small Group Ministry Self?

essential skills

What Would You Say to Your First Year in Small Group Ministry Self?

Maybe you’ve been asked a version of this question. Probably you’ve heard a version of it asked of a guest on a talk show or a podcast.

Usually it’s something like, “What would you say to the 25 year-old you?” Or, “What advice would you give the 21 year-old you?”

I can tell you this, there are some things I’d want to say to my first year in small group ministry self:

Focus on your own spiritual growth first

Focus on your own spiritual growth first. Make sure you’re being discipled and mentored by some fully authentic Christ followers who are the kind of people and leaders you want to be when you grow up.

I’ve always thought of this as, “In case of emergency, put on your own oxygen mask first.”

I didn’t know to do this when I began in ministry. As it turned out, my senior pastor introduced me to Eric Swanson, a Campus Crusade Campus Director in town for a couple months of that summer. It’s a massive understatement to say I’m thankful that happened. It set me on a path that 35 years later is still the right one. See also, Investing in Your Own Personal Growth.

Build a team as you find the players

Build a team as you find the players. One of the things I learned from Eric was the life-giving importance of team ministry. I can remember looking forward to the day I would work on a team like his. And I look back with gratitude that I began building my own team in the very beginning. We were all volunteers, but we enjoyed the essence of what Eric’s team had.

The chance to pray together and dream together almost pales in comparison to the moments you’ll laugh together or celebrate a victory together or even cry together when ministry or life is hard. See also, Sole Proprietor? Or Builder of a Great Team?

Prioritize launching new groups

Prioritize launching new groups. I had to learn to do this. And it didn’t come naturally. What came naturally was prioritizing the group leaders and groups I already had. Doing anything other than taking care of what I already had was counterintuitive.

Prioritizing anything other than the needs of the group leaders and groups I already had seemed like the opposite of the old maxim, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

But the truth is, launching (and sustaining) new groups is a key to building a thriving small group ministry.

I didn’t know it when I began, but I’m glad I learned it early. See also, Are You Prioritizing the Launch of New Groups?

Always be identifying and recruiting leaders of leaders

Always be identifying, recruiting and developing leaders of leaders. I didn’t learn this in the beginning. And I didn’t learn it all at once. It sort’ve came to me in stages over time. I learned the concept from Jim Dethmer and he learned it from Carl George. But I’m glad I learned it early on in my ministry. Alongside prioritizing new groups, this practice is a game-changer.

When you have eyes to see, there are always men and women who, when compared to everyone else, are simply higher capacity leaders. They are the hundred-fold or sixty-fold seeds in Jesus’ parables. It’s not about maturity. It is about capacity and it’s largely built-in. In many ways they were born that way.

Learn to spot them. And learn to recruit them to a seat on the bus where they can have the greatest impact. See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Coach.

Do TO and FOR your leaders what you want them to do to their members

Do TO and FOR your leaders what you want them to do to their members. I didn’t learn this in the beginning. I wish I had. This simple practice makes so much possible. And, as you employ the practice of identifying and recruiting leaders of leaders it allows you to scale caring for leaders (and members) in a way that nothing else does.

Learn to do this as early as you can. Don’t put it off. This practice is at the very heart of building a thriving small group ministry. See also, The Best Training for Small Group Leaders.

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4 Tell-Tale Signs Your Small Group System Is Broken

tell taleYou know how certain things in life are tell-tale signs something is wrong? For example, when your car’s bouncing down the road and the tires are wearing unevenly…it’s a tell-tale sign that your car’s wheels need to be aligned . Or when your thermostat is set on 72 but it’s 82 in the house and the air conditioner is blowing hot air. Or how about when your debit card is declined the morning after your paycheck is deposited?

Tell-tale signs.

Did you know there are tell-tale signs that your small group system is broken?

4 Tell-Tale Signs Your Small Group System is Broken:

Your total number of groups is remaining the same year after year.

Your total number of groups is remaining the same year after year. If your total number of groups isn’t growing, it’s a tell-tale sign something is broken. Even if your church’s attendance is flatlined, a growing total number of groups is an indication of a healthy small group system.

A flatlined total number of groups may indicate a number of issues:

  • You are simply adding new members to existing groups (instead of focusing on launching new groups).
  • As existing group leaders move away or “take a break” you’re finding a replacement (instead of letting the group die).
  • You haven’t taught your group leaders to “fish for new members” themselves (and they’re relying on you to send them replacements.

See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Start New Groups and Great Question: How Do I Train Leaders to Add New Members?

Your percentage connected remains the same year after year.

Your percentage connected remains the same year after year. If your percentage connected is not increasing year after year, it is a tell-tale sign something is broken (or inadequately designed). Even if your church’s attendance is increasing, a healthy small group system (or the right small group system) will allow your percentage connected to increase year after year.

A flatlined (or decreasing) percentage connected my indicate:

  • Your menu of belong and become options is too broad and needs to be pared down (to narrow the focus to only the best option(s).
  • Your system is inadequate to the challenge and simply isn’t designed to expand quickly enough.

See also, What Percentage of Your Adults are Actually Connected?

You’re not sustaining the new groups you are launching.

You’re not sustaining the new groups you are launching. When you are launching new groups but you’re not sustaining a high enough percentage of them, it’s a tell-tale sign something is broken.

A low percentage of new groups sustained may indicate:

  • You’re not providing appropriate support for new group leaders (i.e., you don’t have an effective coaching structure in place).
  • The method you’re using to launch new groups is poorly designed (i.e., a flaw in the launching strategy may actually predict poor affinity or unreasonable expectations).

See also, 5 Steps to Sustaining the New Groups You Launch

Groups members show few signs of life-change.

Groups members show few signs of life-change. It is a deeply held assumption that the optimal environment for life-change is a small group. If life-change is not happening in a meaningful way (and stories of life-change are hard to find), it is a tell-tale sign something is broken.

A lack of life-change evidence may indicate:

  • A poorly designed method of gathering stories.
  • A lack of intentionality in doing TO and FOR your leaders what you want them to do TO and FOR their members.
  • A laissez-faire attitude or lack of intentionality in guiding the selection of group curriculum.

See also, Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change and 5 Signs You May Have a Bad Disciple-Making Strategy.

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FAQ: What Does a Good First Step Out of the Auditorium Look Like?

FAQ- A Good First StepFAQ: What Does a Good First Step Out of the Auditorium Look Like?

I get questions. A lot of questions. Sometimes they come in a comment here on the blog. Other times a reader will simply reply to one of my blog posts. And still other times questions come at a workshop or conference session  I’m leading.

Here’s a recent version of a frequently asked question about designing a great first step out of the auditorium:

I serve in a more traditional environment that doesn’t currently have a first step out of the auditorium. What is typically covered in this first step at other churches?

We do a membership class 2-3 times per year and launch new life groups twice a year. Otherwise, we have many open group and service environments each week that we point people to through our announcements and bulletin.

Is this something would be (should be) happening more frequently? We do receive guests every week, but not a large number. Our average worship attendance is 320.

Here’s my answer:

Essentially, a first step out of the auditorium should seem reasonable and doable to the people that need to take it. I often say whether something is reasonable and doable is in the eye of the beholder (i.e., Design it with the people who need to take it in mind).

What are some things we must keep in mind about the people who need to take the first step?

Infrequent attenders

First, the people who need to take the first step are infrequent attenders. If you want them to take the first step you’ve designed, it should be talked about frequently enough to hit their radar when they’re ready to respond.

Since they’re infrequent attenders your first step should also be offered often enough to be available when they’re ready to respond.

An important litmus test of the any step you design is, “Is it easy, obvious and strategic for the people who need to take it.”

The priorities of the crowd and community

Second, the people who need to take the first step have the priorities of the crowd and community (i.e., not of the congregation, committed and core). If you want them to take the first step you’ve designed, it should be designed with their priorities (and their commitment level) in mind.

  • It should be convenient. If your first step is inconvenient (i.e., wrong day, time, place, length, etc.), it will be put off. Remember, they have the priorities of the crowd and community.
  • It should feel like a reasonable exchange for their time. What’s reasonable? Think in terms of what they are giving up to take the first step you are offering (i.e., several hours of their day off, watching their team, an afternoon in the pool, etc.). Remember, they have the priorities of the crowd and community.
  • It should offer a taste, not a 5 course meal. A taste requires only a willingness to try something out. I may choose to do that if even it is something I’ve never tried before. However, a 5 course meal of strange and foreign will probably not be selected.

Don’t need to know there is a built-in next step

Third, the people who need to take the first step don’t need to know there is a built-in next step. If your first step is designed with their interests and preferences in mind, taking it will almost be an afterthought. And the carefully designed next step that you offer at the end of the first step will seem like the natural thing to do next.

A better first step

In churches your size, a better first step is probably a nearby room or a booth or kiosk in the lobby staffed by really outgoing and helpful volunteers right after every service. A quick overview of selected next steps could be offered, and maybe a simple gift of some kind, in exchange for a simple contact form completed (name, best phone, best email, check boxes for interest).

Our first step

We have a very conveniently situated space called “The Corner” that is 20 feet outside our auditorium. We mention it every service in the welcome (i.e., “Hey, if you are joining us for the very first time, welcome! We want to send you a little something to say ‘Thanks’ for being a part of our weekend experience… so make sure to fill out the Connect Card in the weekend program & drop it in the offering bucket as it’s passed later in the service. We’ve also got a place just for you; it’s called The Corner. There are some great people there who are more than willing to answer any questions you might have.”

Something like The Corner provides an appropriate first step for unconnected people who are ready TODAY to take that step. If your membership class happens infrequently, you need something that is designed with their interests and priorities in mind. And whatever you design should always have the right next step embedded in it.

Our next step

We offer an experience called NEXT about 8 or 9 times a year. It is the closest thing we offer to a “membership class.” It is actually a next step in many ways.

  • We offer it right after our 4:00 p.m. service on Saturday and right after our 11:00 a.m. service on Sunday.
  • It lasts about an hour and includes a light lunch or dinner and childcare.
  • Participants are seated at round tables with a table host.
  • NEXT features a short welcome and “here’s our vision” moment from our senior pastor.
  • The balance of the hour includes three short videos that cast vision for connecting in a Life Group, serving, and being baptized. Each video is followed by a short discussion led by the table host.
  • Next steps for (1) connecting with a Life Group, (2) participating in a “back stage tour” (a behind-the-scenes look at serving opportunities on the weekend), or (3) committing to a baptism opportunity are scheduled in the following weeks.
  • Participants fill out a card during the hour indicating what their next step(s) will be.
  • Next Step commitments are followed up with email and phone call reminders.

Further Reading:

Evaluate the Connection Potential of Your “First Step out of the Auditorium”

first stepEvaluate the Connection Potential of Your “First Step out of the Auditorium”

Most churches have already adopted, adapted or developed a “first step out of the auditorium” that is regularly promoted and held on a regular basis. It may be Saddleback’s CLASS 101, an adaptation of some other first step class, or a class completely of your own design, but most churches have this strategy in play (and let’s just say, if you don’t yet have a “first step out of the auditorium” you need to!).

The basic question is, how effective is your first step out of the auditorium?

Don’t Miss THIS

The more advanced (and more pertinent to all of us) is how effective is the connection potential of your first step out of the auditorium? Don’t miss this point. A well designed first step out of the auditorium points participants to a carefully crafted next step.

A well designed first step out of the auditorium points participants to a carefully crafted next… Click To Tweet

Evaluate your “first step out of the auditorium”:

  1. Are you holding it often enough and promoting it regularly enough to capture the attention of unconnected people (who are typically infrequent attenders)? Your church’s size and the number of new or unconnected people you hope to see take this first step are probably determining how frequently you are holding the class. How frequently you are holding the class is probably determining how regularly you are promoting it. Note: If your size and number of new or unconnected people make the first step awkward to hold on a frequent basis, it may the wrong first step. An intermediate first step held more frequently, designed to feel good with only a few people, may be begging to be implemented.
  2. Is your “first step” easy to take? Is it at a convenient time? Does the way you offer it remove obstacles (i.e., by providing childcare, including a meal or a a snack if the time dictates, short enough to fit in busy schedules, etc.). Note: Pay close attention to any obstacles or issues that prevent offering an easy “first step” (i.e., another ministry or program has the best room reserved, childcare can’t be offered at the best time, etc.). Removing obstacles is not a nice extra. It is essential practice if you want to connect infrequent and unconnected attenders.
  3. Is your “first step” obvious? Are you offering it in a way that is unopposed (that is, alone on the calendar or time slot as the singular opportunity)? Is it clear from your promotion that this class or experience is the thing you want everyone to do? Or does it actually feel like one of several equally valid next steps? Note: While all of these steps are challenging, converting from a buffet of options to a single best choice might be the most difficult. Until you are able to take this step, it will be challenging to offer an obvious first step out of the auditorium.
  4. Is you “first step” strategic? Does the class or experience point attenders to a clearly marked next step (or a very narrow set of possible next steps)? To be strategic your “first step” must offer built-in and predetermined next steps that are designed for infrequent and unconnected attenders to take. These built-in and predetermined next steps must be easy, obvious and strategic themselves. Note: This is where you must do some of your best work. If your “first step” does not include as one of a narrow set of next steps attending a connection or signing up for a short-term group, you are leaving a very important opportunity on the table.

How did you do? Do you have a “first step” out of the auditorium? Are you holding it often enough and promoting it regularly enough? Is it an easy step? Is it an obvious step? Is it strategic?

Your answers to these four questions will reveal your assignment going forward.

Further Reading:

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