An Analysis of the Church-Wide Campaign-Driven Strategy

An Analysis of the Church-Wide Campaign-Driven Strategy

Unlike the Free Market system or the Sermon-Based system (both of which are also very commonly semester systems), the Church-Wide Campaign-Driven strategy is actually part of a system and not the whole shebang.

For example, at Canyon Ridge we use several different strategies designed to connect people to groups over the course of the year. This set of strategies used over the course of the year are all designed to identify new leaders. A single church-wide campaign (typically in the fall) anchors our annual small group strategy. See also, Overview: Here Are Our Four Strategies for Launching New Groups.

A church-wide campaign is not a new idea. Churches have been using church-wide campaigns for many years, primarily as a way to rally the whole church around a vision (often connected with a capital campaign and a building project).

A church-wide campaign, or a spiritual growth emphasis (as Rick Warren refers to them) can be very powerful and do much more than connect adults to groups. Saddleback calls them a spiritual growth emphasis because a well-conceived, well-planned and well-executed church-wide campaign will have a powerful impact on the spiritual vitality of an entire church (from core to crowd and even into the community).

Full Disclosure: I believe a well-conceived, well-planned, and well-executed is the very best way to identify the largest number of leaders, launch the largest number of new groups, and connect the largest number of unconnected people.

Common Distinctives:

Church-wide campaigns have a number of distinctive elements:

  • They are alignments between a sermon series and a small group study. That is, what is studied in small groups enhances and reinforces the weekend sermon series.
  • Many campaigns include other elements, such as a daily devotional (think 40 Days of Purpose and The Purpose Driven Life), memory verses, serving opportunities, etc.
  • While there are many off-the-shelf church-wide campaigns, it is more and more common for churches to develop their own (produced in-house or farmed out to a production company). See also, The Latest on Church-Wide Campaigns – 2016.
  • The adult small group study is commonly DVD-driven.
  • Many campaigns are developed to include the whole congregation (with materials for children and students, as well).
  • Most campaigns include an effort to challenge unconnected adults to join groups that are using the campaign study (where they can get everything possible out of the message series).
  • Well-executed campaigns are designed to launch new small groups (and identify new leaders).

Advantages of the church-wide campaign-driven strategy:

Incorporating an annual church-wide campaign into your overall church strategy has a number of advantages:

  • It can focus your church on one conversation (children, students and adults can focus on a single topic).
  • Well-executed campaigns launch waves of new groups and identify new leaders. In my opinion, it is the very best way to connect the largest number of unconnected people and launch the largest number of new groups.
  • Connecting large numbers of unconnected adults into groups can provide an important first step into community.
  • Well-conceived and well-executed campaigns leverage the influence of the most influential person in the church (the senior pastor) to encourage whole congregations to participate (i.e, attend all 6 weekend services, be part of a group that’s using the study that goes along with the message series, do the daily devotional, etc.).
  • Well-executed campaigns very effectively sustain a large percentage of the new groups launched, helping many unconnected people take first steps into community.

Disadvantages of the church-wide campaign-driven strategy:

  • The effectiveness of a church-wide campaign rests largely on the senior pastor’s ability and willingness to play the role of champion. The most effective campaigns leverage the influence of the most influential person in the church to encourage everyone to fully participate. There is no truly effective substitute. See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion.
  • Choosing the right campaign can be a challenge. Since the topic determines who will say “yes” to leading a group and who will say “yes” to joining a group, choosing a topic that appeals broadly is an essential step. See also, Your Church-Wide Campaign Topic Determines Two Huge Outcomes.
  • Church-wide campaigns require full participation and buy-in from senior leadership (senior pastor, staff, elders, etc.). Without full participation and buy-in results in a less successful campaign.
  • Effective church-wide campaigns dominate the calendar for 2 to 3 months of the year. Recruiting new leaders and then launching new groups is a 6 to 8 weekend project. Series promotion and execution is typically an overlapping 6 to 8 weekends. See also, Behind the Scenes: Developing a Timeline for Your Church-Wide Campaign.
  • Truly effective campaigns are never one of several things being promoted. They are always the only thing being promoted. This aspect necessitates rethinking the way other ministries and programs are launched or promoted.

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

5 Reasons Your New Groups Are Short-Lived (i.e., die before their time)

5 Reasons Your New Groups Are Short-Lived (i.e., die before their time)

Do you find yourself launching plenty of new groups but watching too many of them die before their time? There are some important reasons why that happens. And there are some steps you can take to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Here are my 5 reasons new groups are often short-lived:

First, you’re not choosing the right launching study.

The right launching study is critical for the short-term survival of new leaders and new groups. Choosing a study that is too challenging, has too much required leader preparation, or is simply not what new members will find engaging or satisfying leads to the premature demise of many, many new groups.

Choosing the right study to launch new groups is an important key to help this fragile new life off to a really good start. Minimal leader preparation allows the new leader to focus their attention on helping new members build healthy relationships. The right topics (from the perspective of new participants) make conversation seem easy and spontaneous. The right topics easily promote conversation that doesn’t pit one point of view against another.

The right launching study is critical for the short-term survival of new leaders and new groups.The right launching study is critical for the short-term survival of new leaders and new groups Click To Tweet

Second, you’re not encouraging (or requiring) leaders of new groups to begin with a co-leader.

Not encouraging (or requiring) leaders of new groups to begin with a co-leader is often deadly. Not only is it deadly, but death often comes too quick as the new leader’s expectations aren’t met. Keeping a new group going is challenging and often too hard for one person to pull off. Beginning life with someone else (other than a spouse) to help shoulder the challenge makes it much easier.

Not encouraging (or requiring) leaders of new groups to begin with a co-leader is often deadly.Not encouraging (or requiring) leaders of new groups to begin with a co-leader is often deadly Click To Tweet

Third, you’re not giving your new leaders a coach from the very beginning.

Not giving your new leaders a coach from the very beginning may need to classified as a crime! A crime? Really? Yes. For two very important reasons:

  • Having a seasoned veteran leader walking alongside, especially in the first 6 to 12 weeks, helps new leaders tackle some of their toughest challenges. Having even a short weekly conversation about what’s working and not working in their new group helps new leaders quickly adjust to ensure the health and viability of their new group.
  • Almost more importantly, new leaders working with a coach from the beginning ensures that once they no longer feel the need for a coach they will have established a solid relationship with someone a few steps ahead of them spiritually (doing TO and FOR them whatever you want the leader doing TO and FOR their members).

Not giving your new leaders a coach from the very beginning may need to classified as a crime!Not giving your new leaders a coach from the very beginning may need to classified as a crime! Click To Tweet

Fourth, you’re not giving your new leader a study to next.

Not giving your new leader a study to next (right after the launching study) puts their new group in serious jeopardy. Why? New groups often aren’t strong enough to survive the challenge of a discussion, debate or disagreement about what they should study next.

Trust me, every new group has someone in it that will either suggest a study that is simply to hard or challenging for the new leader to lead or one they’ve recently heard plugged by Oprah Winfrey.

New groups don’t yet have the connective tissue they will soon have. Giving them a study to do next (that is similar-in-kind to their launching study) will help them build strength of connection that will soon help them choose for themselves what to do.

Not giving your new leader a study to next (right after the launching study) puts their new group in serious jeopardy.Not giving your new leader a study to next puts their new group in serious jeopardy. Click To Tweet

Fifth, you’re not helping your new leaders and their new groups begin with a load-sharing mentality.

Not helping new leaders and their new groups begin with a load-sharing mentality often leads to leader discouragement as everything falls on them to do. Everything, from getting the house ready to providing refreshments, and from calling or emailing reminders about the meeting to being ready to be a gracious host, often becomes quickly overwhelming.

Far better to set new leaders and new groups up to win by helping them understand from the very beginning that everyone can help in some way. Creating a simple set of expectations that is shared at the very first meeting will help new leaders make what can be an awkward moment more satisfying for everyone.

Not helping new leaders and their new groups begin with a load-sharing mentality often leads to leader discouragement as everything falls on them to do.Not helping new leaders and their new groups begin with a load-sharing mentality often leads to… Click To Tweet

Further Reading: 

Image by Stacey

The Team You’re Building Determines the Size of Your Ministry

The Team You’re Building Determines the Size of Your Ministry

I am a big believer in the importance of philosophy of ministry. If you’ve read much here at MarkHowellLive.com you already know that.

Still, whether you’re a seasoned veteran or brand new to my writing, you may not realize how deeply philosophy of ministry runs in my approach and how adopting this ministry practice could positively affect your own ministry development.

Here’s an example: I believe the team you’re building determines the size of your ministry. And I am making no distinction between staff and volunteers. The team you’re building may be entirely volunteers, it may be a staff team, or most likely it will be a mix of staff and volunteers.

The team you’re building determines the size of your ministry.The team you're building determines the size of your ministry. Click To Tweet

Here’s what I mean. There are several aspects.

First, span of care determines the health and scalability of your ministry.Span of care determines the health and scalability of your ministry. Click To Tweet

First, span of care determines the health and scalability of your ministry. Carl George’s notion that “everyone needs to be cared for by someone but nobody can take care of more than (about) 10” is at the essence of my philosophy. When care is happening throughout the structure of your ministry it allows your ministry to grow larger. Adding groups without caring for leaders doesn’t lead to more groups and more people connected. It leads to a shuffling effect with the same basic number of people connected in the same basic number of groups. Every time you add a few new groups a few of your older groups die.

Second, what you are making determines what is being made at the member level of your groups.What you are making determines what is being made at the member level of your groups. Click To Tweet

Second, what you are making determines what is  being made at the member level of your groups. If it is true that whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members of your groups must happen first in the lives of the leaders  (and I believe it is), that ought to be telling you what you must be doing in the lives of your leaders.

And–since span of care determines the health and scalability of your ministry–you should already be able to see how many (or how few) leaders you will be able to impact. In other words, you may believe that what you are making determines what is being made at the member level but not be able to improve what you are making because your span of care is inadequate.

Third, the way you spend your time reveals your true convictions.The way you spend your time reveals your true convictions. Click To Tweet

Third, the way you spend your time reveals your true convictions. Saying you care about the players on the team you are building while spending your time on less important things demonstrates what you really believe. See also, 5 Stupid Things Small Group Pastors Need to Stop Doing.

Further Reading:

10 Ideas that Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry

10 Assumptions that Shape My Small Group Strategy

10 Principles for Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry

Sole Proprietor? Or Builder of a Great Team?

The Very Best Way to Launch the Largest Number of New Groups

The Very Best Way to Launch the Largest Number of New Groups

I am regularly asked for ideas on the best ways to connect more people in groups. Having been working on the answer to this question for over 20 years, you might think I have a pat answer by now.

And you’d be right. I do have a pat answer.

A church-wide campaign is the best way to launch the largest number of new groups. A church-wide campaign is the best way to launch the largest number of new groups. Click To Tweet

A church-wide campaign is the best way to launch the largest number of new groups. And no other strategy even comes close.

But…it’s actually not quite that simple. It’s a little more complicated than that.

The correct answer to the question is that a well-conceived, well-planned, and well-executed church-wide campaign is the best way to launch the largest number of new groups.

*Check out my popular mini-course: How to Maximize YOUR Church-Wide Campaign.

A well-conceived church-wide campaign

What do I mean by a well-conceived church-wide campaign? That’s a little easier to explain than to actually pull off.

A well-conceived church-wide campaign is specifically designed or chosen to do the one thing you really, really want to do.

Let’s start with an understanding of “the one thing you really, really want to do.”

First, a well-conceived church-wide campaign acknowledges from the outset specifically who you hope to connect.

Specifically. Laser targeted. Not broadly or generally. Not all-inclusive. Not wishfully thinking about connecting everyone.

Specifically.

Specifically means the exact kind of person you hope to connect.

Example #1: You might determine that the ideal church-wide campaign for fall 2017 is one that appeals to the community, crowd and outside edge of your congregation. If you choose that kind of person you’ll also choose a topic that will appeal to to them (and might not tickle the fancy of the already connected).

Example #2: You might determine that the ideal church-wide campaign for fall 2017 is one that appeals to the inside edge of the congregation, committed and core. If you choose that kind of person you’ll choose a topic that will appeal to them (and might not tickle the fancy of unconnected people).

Why would you do either? In determining in advance who you hope to connect, you’re acknowledging that you cannot please everyone and you’re landing on the specific topic that will help the demographic you choose take the step you hope they’ll take.

In Example #1 you’re choosing a topic that will appeal to the community, crowd and outside edge of your congregation in hopes that they’ll be taking a first step into connection that will lead to more frequent attendance and the next steps that help people begin to follow Jesus.

In Example #2 you’re choosing a topic that will appeal to the inside edge of the congregation, committed and core in hopes that they’ll take the next steps that lead to greater commitment to Christ and the practices that demonstrate true spiritual maturity (i.e., serving in a gift-based passion-driven ministry role, giving generously, being other-centered, etc.).

See also, How to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign and Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?

Second, a well-conceived church-wide campaign might be designed and developed by you or it might be an off-the-shelf campaign.

It’s gotten easier and easier to develop your own campaign when you have the right in-house team or can hire the right people for the project.

At the same time, there is a wide selection of off-the-shelf campaigns that can work very well in most contexts. See also, The Latest on Church-Wide Campaigns – 2016 and 2017’s Top 5 Church-Wide Campaigns.

A well-planned church-wide campaign

A well-planned church-wide campaign begins with the end-in-mind and builds in tailored steps that lead directly to the preferred future.

Well-planned church-wide campaigns aren’t last minute, wild-haired ideas. There aren’t impromptu work-arounds or bull-headed do-it-anyway moments.

Well-planned church-wide campaigns are calculated, shrewd and uncompromising. Anything and everything that could alter the trajectory is eliminated or deemphasized.

Well-planned church-wide campaigns begin to play out many months in advance. September campaigns are set in motion in the late spring…at the latest. February campaigns are often in play in the late fall.

See also, Behind the Scenes: Developing a Timeline for Your Church-Wide Campaign.

A well-executed church-wide campaign

Well-executed campaigns are detail oriented to the extreme. They are designed and executed with precision and moment-by-moment vigilance.

Execution is about carrying out the plan…to an exactness that may not be customary in your congregation’s experience.

Details that are often shrugged off are evaluated real-time and course corrections are swift.

Communication with all players (staff, existing group leaders, weekend service personnel, congregation) is uncompromising and exactly as planned. To the letter.

For example, all announcements (verbal, bulletin, website, email, etc,) and sermon mentions are often scripted and care is given to specific wording designed to emphasize important elements.

Example #1: In the fall of 2015 we used Saddleback’s Transformed: How God Changes You as our campaign.  In place of some outdated verbiage, we inserted the following lines to recruit hosts (people who would launch their own group with their own friends):

“If you have a couple friends you’d like to do the Transformed study with, stop off at Groups Central after the service today and pick up a Transformed Starter Kit. We’ve included everything you need to do the study with a couple friends and we’ve priced it super affordably.”

You need to note a few things:

  1. The wording was very specific.
  2. We never referred to “starting a group.”
  3. We made it as friend-oriented as possible: “If you have a couple friends.”
  4. It was intended to seem easy to do.
  5. We never referred to the price, only “we’ve priced it super affordably.”

This script was used dozens of times over the 8 weeks leading up to the launch of the Transformed series. Any deviation was noted and corrected immediately after the service.

Example #2: An important element of execution in a church-wide campaign is the specific narrowing of focus during the 8 weeks leading up to the launch of the weekend series. Virtually nothing else of significance competed with Transformed in 2015. On the flip side, our 2016 campaign (which was much less successful in every way) our attention slipped and too many additional items made it onto the stage for promotion.

See also, What If Narrowing the Focus Is THE Missing Ingredient? and Behind the Scenes: Preparing for a Church-Wide Campaign.

What Do You Do for Fun…with Your Groups Team?

What Do You Do for Fun…with Your Groups Team?

Couple assumptions here.

First, whether you’re in a church of a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand, I’m assuming you are building the groups team you’ll need if you want to build a thriving small group ministry.

And trust me, this is not about staffing. This is about building a great team of high capacity men and women who are passionate about connecting unconnected people into authentic community and making disciples.

I’m assuming you are building that team as we speak. See also, Sole Proprietor? Or Builder of a Great Team?

Second, I’m assuming you know the importance of having fun together with your team. Whether it’s just hanging out over a good meal or a night out at the bowling alley…you’ve got to be having fun together if you want to build a great team that can help you build a thriving small group ministry.

How am I doing on my two assumptions? Are you with me?

What do you do for fun with your groups team?

Assumptions aside, what do you do for fun with your groups team?

I remember hearing a Willow Creek staffer talking about taking his team out to play a round of golf and they had to each pick a single club to play the entire course. Same staffer told a great story of taking the team to play laser tag.

What do you do for fun with your groups team?What do you do for fun with your groups team? Click To Tweet

We like to joke around and constantly have some running joke going on. We like to eat BBQ (If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you know that). We have an annual tradition of a Wild Elephant Christmas Ornament Gift Exchange following a great meal together.

We need to do more together.

What do you do to have fun with your groups team?

What do you for fun?  Have a great idea? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

The 90s Called…They Want Their Small Group System Back

The 90s Called…They Want Their Small Group System Back

First, you might be wondering, what would be some distinctives of a 90s-style small group ministry?

Here are what I think of as typical 90s-style small group ministry elements:

  1. Before you could lead a small group, you needed to be an apprentice small group leader (and before you could be an apprentice small group leader, you needed to be a member in a group).
  2. Additional leadership prerequisites were often church membership and attending a mandatory 4 to 8 week (or longer) small group leadership training course.
  3. The most zealous adherents of 90s-style small group ministries often held a monthly on-campus leadership community with a time for vision, huddle with coaches, and skill training (VHS).
  4. Healthy groups grew and birthed when they reached a certain size. Typically, there was the understanding that when they had 10 to 12 members they were pregnant and began preparing to birth.
  5. While personal invitation was practiced (which led to groups growing and birthing), a standard operating procedure was to assign newly signed up members to newly credentialed graduates of the mandatory small group leadership training course.

Second, if you’re currently running a 90s style small group ministry, why should you be concerned? What might be the issues to be aware of?

  1. There is a high probability that your best potential leaders are not yet in a small group. Unless your current percentage connected is very high (more than 80%), it is almost certain that by requiring new leaders to have already been members of a group and to have already served as an apprentice, you are missing out on a very large undiscovered and untapped leadership resource.
  2. By requiring potential leaders to attend a mandatory leadership training course before beginning it is very likely that the candidates you are working with are often willing but not qualified. Since the proof is in the pudding, you are likely discovering that many newly qualified group leaders aren’t able to launch and sustain their new group.
  3. The pace of life has increased dramatically since the 90s. As theoretically effective and unifying as the monthly leadership gathering was, it is very difficult to provide frequent leadership gatherings and expect a high percentage to attend.  All centralized and synchronous leader training and encouragement must be replaced (or supplemented) with decentralized and asynchronous gatherings.
  4. Even the most effective Western culture churches have struggled to fully encourage (or enforce) the patterns of the pastor and church where the practice of growing and birthing originated (David Yonggi Cho and the Yoido Full Gospel in Seoul, Korea). A far more effective strategy in the West is to focus on new leader identification and launching new groups.
  5. Assigning newly signed up group members to newly credentialed small group leaders (or existing group leaders with opening in their group) are both ineffective measures that are difficult to accomplish without coming at the expense of more strategic initiatives (i.e., identifying, recruiting and developing coaches; developing small group leaders, and partnering with the senior pastor to leverage influence).

Want to build a thriving small group ministry in the 21st century? Better adopt a new system. Want to build a thriving small group ministry in the 21st century? Better adopt a 21st century… Click To Tweet

Further Reading:

Top 10 DNA Markers of Churches with Thriving Small Group Cultures

5 Things You Need to Know about 21st Century Small Group Ministry

Image by Greg Jordan

The Truth at the Very Center of What I Do

The Truth at the Very Center of What I Do

I’ve been preparing for this week for months. Monday and Tuesday small group pastors and teams showed up from around the country for GroupLife Southwest ’17. Today and tomorrow the members of my 2017 coaching network are here for 8 hours of intensive work on some of the more challenging aspects of small group ministry.

The arrival of this week forces me into some thinking about the ideas and assumptions that inform and drive the way I do small group ministry.

After many years of working this puzzle there are some irreducible ideas that shape the way I do things. I realized this week that one of them is this statement:

“Whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members of your groups must happen first in the lives of their leaders.”Whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members of your groups must happen first in the… Click To Tweet

How is it that that truth is at the heart of what I believe and do?

First, that truth informs leader development. It clearly identifies what must happen to group leaders in order for them to be most effective in their role.

Second, that truth informs the job description and role of a coach. What is at the essence of the role? Here is the big idea:

“Do TO and FOR (and with) the group leaders in your huddle whatever you want your group leaders to do TO and FOR (and with) their members (from the Life Group Coach job description).”

Third, it clarifies how a coach must be developed. Once you know what you want to happen in the lives of the members of your groups, you know with certainty what kind of a person a coach must be and what a coach must be able to do.

Finally, that truth ought to inform what is still needed in my own life. Think about it. Since I am not what I used to be and not yet what I’m going to be (Philippians 3:12-14), the missing attributes in my own life must play some role in the development of coaches and/or leaders and must ultimately play a role in the development of the lives of the members of our groups.

Further Reading:

Image by Jeremy Brooks

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 their 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: