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: 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: 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: 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).
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.
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.
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.”
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.