Q & A: How Can I Break the 50% in Groups Barrier?

Have you ever been stuck and couldn’t figure out what was keeping you from taking a next step or reaching a next level?  All of us are there at one point or another.

I had a comment on one of my articles this week that led to an email exchange with a small group director.  In the email she made this comment:

We seem to be stuck at the 50-60% mark and I’m not sure how to get past that.  Our groups usually meet for 6 weeks in the fall and 6 weeks beginning in February.

When I read that line I immediately formed a diagnosis.  You might have, too.  Here it is:

  1. Whether you’re launching new groups or getting existing groups back together after the summer or after the holidays, it is essential to give them a curriculum to do next in about week 3 or 4 of a 6 week series.  Lyman Coleman said, 6 weeks is short enough for people to commit to and long enough for them to begin to build community.  I’ve found that one of the most important keys to building grouplife is to keep groups meeting beyond their first 6 weeks (in fact, it is one of the 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups).
  2. Although this might be a totally new philosophy, it is essential to begin thinking about the year…not just the next season.  My article, How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar provides some important help with this task.
  3. You might want to look at the kind of curriculum you’re choosing.  It may be that choosing a similar topic every season is limiting your reach to the usual suspects.  If you want to connect new people, you’re going to have to try new things (How to Connect People No One Else Is Connecting).

Along with my diagnosis, I want to point out that 50 to 60% in groups is nothing to sneeze at.  It actually puts you in a pretty high category…if it’s based on real numbers.  To determine that, I think you have to use your adult attendance for Easter or Christmas Eve, which in most cases is larger than your average Sunday adult attendance.

Why do you need to use that number?  If you’re like most churches, it’s not the same group of adults every Sunday.  Depending on the kind of people you’re reaching, it might be that your average adult might only come 2 or 3 times a month.  That’s why you need to use Easter or Christmas Eve.  Those are services that nearly everyone attends at the same time.

Got a Question?

I love answering questions.  Got one?  Use the comment section or send me an email.  Your question is probably one that is shared by many other people.

Review: Not a Fan

Ripped open the packaging for Not a Fan earlier this week.  For me, not many small group studies are as eagerly anticipated as anything new from Kyle Idleman and the crew at City on a Hill Productions.  The first production that I ran across was H2O and it was really groundbreaking.  Not at all a talking head, it was a much more cinematic experience.  H2O was followed by the Easter Experience…again a beautiful production.  I wrote a review of the Easter Experience right here.

Much like their two earlier projects, Not a Fan is a very dramatic effort.  Great storytelling keeps you engaged in the core message: Jesus is not looking for fans.  He’s looking for followers.  Followers who understand that:

  • There is no forgiveness without repentance
  • There is no salvation without surrender
  • There is no life without death
  • There is no believing without following

Each of the 6 episodes follow the life of Eric Nelson, in a kind of contemporary version of a gospel story.  For example, the story of Matthew unfolds in the telling of a modern day failure.  Gary’s life is a mess.  He comes to the place where he figures out that his life of regret is killing him.  Interspersed with Idleman’s narration, the 25 minute segment flies by, setting up a great discussion.  And a key to this study might be, once you start watching…it’s very hard to stop.  You’ll be drawn into a very familiar story.  There will definitely be many very recognizable situations.  And you’ll find yourself thinking…that could be me.

After making the distinction between a fan and a follower in Luke 9:23, the series takes a look at Matthew, the Rich Young Ruler, a series of might be followers who needed to “count the cost” in Luke 9:57-62.

One challenge for many churches will be the cost.  The base price of $69.99 per DVD is expensive when compared to most of the other DVD-driven curriculum.  Although there is a discount with larger purchases (a purchase of 10 DVDs reduces the price by 15% to $59.99 a DVD), it might be prohibitive for some congregations.  Still, when you consider that a DVD can be used more than once, it could be a great investment.

Another challenge might be the level of leadership required to really pull off the kind of discussion that leads to personal action.  Believe me, there will be discussion.  In that sense, this series will ignite conversation and passionate discussion, much like a great movie will leave people with a genuine desire to talk about it.  At the same time, the level of leadership will determine whether it was a great 6 weeks or the beginning of a new and different lifestyle; whether the members of the group remain fans…or truly begin to move toward follower.

Despite the challenges, this is a great new DVD-driven curriculum and there are definitely going to be raging fans of Not a Fan.  Better, this is a series that will mark lives.  Not a Fan, maybe like an Alpha experience designed to produce fully devoted followers, will help fans become followers.

You can find out more about the series right here.  You can even watch a little bit of a sample.  I think you’re going to be captivated.

I review a new study almost every week.  You can read my reviews right here.  While you’re here, why not sign up to get my free updates?  You can subscribe to my blog right here.

Bush on Small Groups

Sponsored Post

Have you seen this video?  It’s worth checking out.  Available over on worship house media, I think you’ll be asking yourself, “Is it really W?”  It could be used for your next small group campaign or for a leader training event.

You can click here to take a look.  And don’t ever misunderestimate the value of a good video!

Now Is the Time To Think About What’s Next

Here’s reality.  The best way to sustain the momentum of what you are about to do…is to be ready for the turn at the end of this straight-away.  Much like a NASCAR race, there are straight-aways and there are turns in every ministry season.  Preparing for and then launching a church-wide campaign (or a fall kick-off) can generate a lot of momentum.

Eventually…you come to the end of the campaign and it’s time for what’s next.  The time to begin to make the turn is not when you reach the bend in the road.  Like what happens in a NASCAR race, you need to start thinking about the turn before you get there (so you’re in the right spot to begin making the turn).

Here are a few things you need to be thinking about now (before you even hit full speed on the straight-away:

These are just a few of the most important questions you should be asking right now.  And trust me…right now really is the time to be thinking this way.  If your church is like mine, you really don’t want to get into the turn to start thinking about coming out the other end.

If you’re still working on the details of a church-wide campaign, here are my Top 10 Articles on Church-Wide Campaigns.  You might also want to take a refresher Thinking Strategically About the Fall Season.

Review: Dare to Be Uncommon

New from Group, Dare to Be Uncommon: Discovering How to Impact Your World, is a new men’s Bible study that is definitely worth a look.  Featuring Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy, this DVD-driven study will be of immediate appeal.  Dungy has great name recognition and is well-known to be both a winner and a Christian.  This will get the attention of the men in your congregation.

In addition to the individual study guide, the Leader’s Pack includes DVD, study guide and Surprisingly Simple (a leader resource with tips and ideas on engaging adults in discussion).

Each session includes a short DVD segment featuring Dungy talking about the people and events that shaped him.  These segments have the feel of the answers to interview questions and help set up topics that have immediate application.

  • Developing Uncommon Character Inside and Out
  • The Uncommon Power of Putting Others First
  • Becoming an Uncommon Friend and Brother
  • Making an Uncommon Difference in God’s Kingdom
  • Finding an Uncommon Purpose and Plan
  • Using Your Uncommon Gifts for God’s Glory
  • Building on the Foundation for an Uncommon Life

The study is easy to use and each session includes a variety of activities.  More than a collection of questions, the session plan is a combination of readings, surveys, trivia (with answers in the back), fill in the blanks, DVD segments, and discussion questions.

Although it is not essential, this study is a great companion to Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance, Dungy’s best-selling autobiography.  Each session in Dare to Be Uncommon features an optional reading assignment from the book.  An additional resource that could serve as a powerful kickoff event is an Uncommon Event (a DVD kit that can be used as a kickoff or finale to the study).

If you’re looking for small group studies that the men in your congregation will be attracted to, this is a great selection.   Dungy’s name is so well known, this study will have immediate appeal and could easily serve as a launching event for a men’s small group strategy.

Review: real life discipleship training manual

Looking for a way to equip disciples who make disciples?  You may want to take a look at the real life discipleship training manual, written by Jim Putman, Avery Willis, Brandon Guindon, and Bill Krause.  New from NavPress, the manual is designed to provide the content for a 12 week experience.  Each week in the manual contains 5 daily assignments (each assignment can be completed in 20 to 30 minutes).

The real life discipleship training manual was developed as a companion to Real Life Discipleship (reviewed here last week).  As I mentioned in my review of Real Life Discipleship, making disciples is serious business at Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho.  One of the fastest growing churches in America, they’ve seen more than 4,000 conversions as they’ve grown to 8,500 in 9 years.

Describing the training manual, founding pastor Jim Putman notes that “there isn’t much theory here.  Instead, it is the day to day, boots-on-the-ground game plan that we use every day at our church.”  In the introduction of Real Life Discipleship he wrote that “the overriding goal is to train disciples who know how to disciple others.”

The 12 week journey takes you through the same process described in Real Life Discipleship (share, connect, minister and disciple) and works through the issues of how to disciple a person through the stages of spiritual maturity (spiritual infant, spiritual child, spiritual young adult and spiritual parents).  The individual sessions help develop the ability to put these principles into practice.

The final week provides a detailed examination of the storying methodology developed by Avery Willis (known as orality).  This concept is very transferable and is a way to fully engage the members of every group.

The training manual features a Leader’s Guide section in the appendix.  Because the manual is intended to be a group experience, the Leader’s Guide includes instructions on how to begin and commitments to be made.  The weekly meeting of the group will center around a guided discussion of the daily experiences (completed in preparation).

You can clearly see the influence of Avery Willis in the workbook pages.  Willis, the author of MasterLife, passed away earlier this year but not before he had a chance to play a part in the discipleship process at Real Life Ministries and the development of the real life discipleship training manual.

Many churches without the time to develop their own process will find this off-the-shelf resource to be exactly what they’ve been looking for.  If you’re looking for ways to raise the discipleship bar in your church, this is a training manual you’ll want to see.

The Why Behind the Way of Your Small Group Ministry Strategy

We all have reasons for the way we’ve designed our small group ministries.  You use a particular strategy or system for a reason (or a lot of interrelated or barely related reasons).  You may have chosen your system or you may have inherited it when you came on the scene.  Sometimes the system was very intentionally selected.  Other times it just became “the way we do things around here” without much thought.

I want to get you thinking today about taking a serious look at the why behind the way of your small group ministry strategy.  Another way of saying it is that you need to take a serious look at the assumptions that are driving the way you do small group ministry.

Why?  Why is it so important?  Examining the assumptions that drive what you do is important for a number of reasons, but one huge reason is that you may find them out of date or incorrect.

In When Growth Stalls, a really helpful article over at HBR, authors Matthew S. Olson, Derek van Bever, and Seth Verry share some powerful ideas about the causes of stall-points in organizational growth. Let me be quick to add, you may not see what you’re wrestling with as a stall-point.  I get that.  But the truth is, if you’re stuck on the way to a church of groups, if you’re consistently averaging 55% of your weekend adult worship attendees in small groups, or if you just have a hard time convincing very many of your adults about the importance of being in a group…you probably need to examine your assumptions.

Here are two of the key reasons for growth stalls they discovered in their study:

  • Leaders must bring the underlying assumptions that drive company strategy into line with the changes in the external environment.
  • Assumptions that a team has held the longest or the most deeply are the most likely to be its undoing.

Let me unpack these statements.  First, one of the main reasons for a growth stall is that the leaders have underlying assumptions that don’t match up changes in the external environment.  For example, participation in sermon based small groups might have leveled off at the same time your student or children’s ministries are attracting large numbers of unchurched families.  It may be time to look at the assumptions that drive your use of the sermon based approach.

Second, lets say you have a perennial challenge finding enough leaders for your free market small group ministry.  The people who are enthused about leading a dog training or fly fishing group, or for that matter a Bible study group, are not reproducing as fast as the need for groups.  What do you need to do?  You may need to reexamine the assumptions that drive the why behind the way you’ve organized your ministry.

Examining underlying assumptions is a challenging venture for many of us.  I’ve written quiet a bit about it over on StrategyCentral.  You may want to take a look at these articles:

At the same time, it may be that the best thing you could do is get the perspective of some fresh eyes.  Click here to find out about scheduling a coaching call or a consulting visit.

The Last 10% Leads to a Church OF Groups

“We are committed,” he said.  It is time and this is the year that we become a church of groups.  Being a church with groups is just not getting it done.  We’re all in this together to make it happen this year.”

Love the determination in those words.  Love the spirit.  Love the hope.  Cannot embrace the assumption that it will happen this year.  It just won’t.  For several reasons:

First, moving to a significantly new trajectory almost always requires persistence over several seasons (contrary to the fantasy that you can move from a church with groups to a church of groups in one ministry season).  You can get there from here…but you can’t do it overnight.  It takes a steady hand and commitment to a new destination.

Second, continuing on a new trajectory requires determination and resilience in the face of the tension to go back to the land of previous, the land of familiarity, the land of comfortable.  Only determination and resilience will sustain a trajectory that can escape the gravitational pull of the status quo.

Third, commitment to a new trajectory requires a locked on sense of ultimate destination.  Like a rocket to the moon, you might only be on course 98% of the time, but you need to be unwavering about where you’re going.

Fourth, arriving at a new destination requires a commitment to the last 10%.  Regardless of how passionate you are, how fervently committed to the vision of church of groups…there will always be a determined resistance more passionate than the Taliban or the Tamil Tigers.

You’ll find the rest of the top 10 fantasies of churches with groups right here.

Make It Easier To Fulfill Commitments to Host by Smoothing the Path

We all know the situation…20 people commit to host a group and 10 follow through.  Or 100 commit to host a group and 65 follow through.  I call it the “sign-up to show-up ratio.”

What if there was a way to improve the ratio?  What if there was something you could do that would exponentially improve the odds?  There might be.  At least for me, this is too good an idea not to act on.

Exhibit A

In a study designed to examine why some college students donate (saints) to a canned food drive and some don’t (jerks), a team of researchers asked the question, “Can we alter the situation so that the jerks give, too?”   Chip and Dan Heath refer to this as smoothing the path in their most recent book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.

The first step for the researchers was to determine which students were predisposed to a charitable response and which were not.  Once they knew which students were charitable and which were uncharitable, they were ready for the second step.

The second step was to send a letter to the students announcing the food drive.  Important: They sent two different letters.  Some students received a basic announcement that told the dates of the drive and a specific well known location to bring the canned items to.  The rest of the students received a more detailed letter, that “included a map to the precise spot, a request for a can of beans, and a suggestion that they think about a time when they’d ordinarily be near (the drop-off area) so they wouldn’t have to go out of their way (p. 182).”

Can you guess what happened?  When the saints received the basic letter, only 8% responded with a donation.  None of the jerks responded.  On the other hand, 42% of the saints responded to the more detailed letter…and so did 25% of the jerks!

The Takeaway

When you’re designing the process of recruiting hosts for your next church-wide campaign, including a detailed letter that specifically lays out the steps will deliver a higher sign-up to show-up percentage.

(I also referred to Switch in Cultivate Identity Before the HOST Ask).

Review: Real-Life Discipleship

I first started hearing about Real Life Ministries back in 2007 when Avery Willis came by the Lifetogether office to talk about his latest project.  The fast growing church in Post Falls, Idaho was and is an amazing story.  When Avery mentioned that they had about the same number of people in groups as they had at their weekend service he had my attention.  When he began telling me a few of their core discipleship expectations I was more than a little intrigued.

Senior Pastor Jim Putman’s first book, Church Is a Team Sport, told the story of how Real Life Ministries began and describes their transition from a ministry near burnout from the personal load on the staff to one of watching God work through the congregation.  His most recent book, Real-Life Discipleship: building churches that make disciples was written to “show how Real Life Ministries makes and trains disciples.”

Written in three parts (Setting the Stage for Discipleship, Mastering the Discipleship Process, and Letting Disciples Emerge as Leaders), Real-Life Discipleship thoroughly describes the intentional, relational and strategic pattern of making disciples at Real Life Ministries.  The pattern is taken straight out of the Gospels and described in detail as share, connect, minister, and disciple (SCMD).

In describing the stages of a disciple’s growth, Putman introduces the pattern of spiritually dead, spiritual infant, spiritual child, spiritual young adult and spiritual parents and illustrates the concept with a diagram he calls the spiritual growth wheel.  It’s a helpful reference that he comes back to a number of times.

Part Two, Mastering the Discipleship Process, teases out the practices that introduce the element of intentionality.  The five chapters provide detail to the concepts and strategies behind:

  • moving the spiritually dead toward life (share)
  • nurturing spiritual infants (share)
  • guiding spiritual infants (connect)
  • training young adults (minister)
  • releasing spiritual parents (disciple)

What you have to appreciate about Real-Life Discipleship is the book’s thorough description of the practices that will move people through the stages of spiritual life.  For example, the chapter on nurturing spiritual infants provides rich detail on recognizing spiritual infants, meeting the needs of a spiritual infant, and many of the specific steps a discipleship process will need to address in helping an infant begin to move toward maturity.  The appendix provides a rich additional resource with a summary and profile of each spiritual stage.

Part Three, Letting Disciples Emerge as Leaders, is no afterthought.  For many of us, this may be prove to be one of the most important aspects of the book.  One of the great challenges in most systems is how to develop leaders of leaders.  The final two chapters of Real-Life Discipleship give and excellent overview of the kind of person that makes a leader of leaders and how to create a leadership development factory.

If you’re looking for a resource that will provide depth to your discipleship process, Real-Life Discipleship should definitely be on your radar.  This is a book that will be both challenging and instructional as it provides an under the hood look at the philosophies and practices of one the most effective churches in America.