Crowd-to-Core, Quality Control and Problem-Free

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We’ve had a very good discussion here over the last 48 hours about the difference between “cell groups” and “small groups” (prompted by Randall Neighbour’s article on and my response).  The comments here have been very engaging and have all had a great spirit and attitude.  It’s been very fun to watch!

Several of the the comments really require more comprehensive answers.  This article is the result of Brian Owen’s observation that he is “excited by the possibilities of reaching out to more people but find myself really concerned with the potential lack of ‘quality control’ for lack of a better word.”

Brian’s comment begs further unpacking of the crowd-to-core philosophy, quality control, and the pursuit of problem-free.  Here’s what I’ve got.  Follow along.  And feel free to jump in any time.

First, while it’s an oversimplification to say that the crowd-to-core philosophy is just the opposite of core-to-crowd, it’s a good place to start.  Core-to-crowd is the idea that if I pour into my core, teach them, equip them, love them and challenge them…they will go out and do what Jesus was talking about in the great commission.  In some ways this is the essence of the cell group idea.  Can you see it?  If I build into my members and focus on them they will one day leave to start their own group (the apprentice notion).

Crowd-to-core on the other hand is a philosophy based on reaching into the crowd by providing simple steps that make it easy for them to respond and do the next thing that will ultimately help them join the congregation, make commitments that lead to service, and develop the mindset that puts the needs of others first…but all the while inviting their friends to come along.

Second, a little discussion of quality control in group life in general and group leadership specifically.  The cell strategy usually relies on building into an apprentice with the idea that they will eventually birth their own group.  The cell will divide (to use the biological metaphor) and you’ll have two groups and two qualified leaders to include on your roster of available groups to send potential members to.

Although it may not be a key component, this is an important distinction.  If the system includes the church sending potential members to a leader, then quality control is a greater liability.  On the other hand, if the leader (or host) is the one recruiting members, then you can make an argument that the upside outweighs the downside (i.e., if I invite you to my group, I am most likely a step or two ahead of you from a spiritual standpoint and more importantly, I am likely to invite friends that otherwise wouldn’t be part of a group).

Third, the contrast between core-to-crowd and crowd-to-core, along with concerns about quality control, lead directly to an understanding about the pursuit of problem free.  Here’s what I mean.  Take the two ideas: core-to-crowd (high quality control, cell-driven, apprenticing as source for leaders, etc.) vs. crowd-to-core (lowering the leader requirements, leader’s own friends become members, etc.) and list the problems associated with each system in a column beneath.

An honest evaluation will help you see that both ideas have sets of problems.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.

Personal Conclusion:  I enthusiastically embrace the crowd-to-core philosophy and would much rather have that set of problems, believing it is easier to mitigate those problems than the set that comes with a core-to-crowd strategy.  An example of a problem that is immediately pointed out with a lower leadership bar is that it makes quality control more difficult.  I believe that is more than offset by it being much easier to recruit hosts who will invite their own friends than to pre-qualify enough leaders to care for the number who are unconnected.  I can mitigate the risk by requiring new leaders to attend an orientation, to use the pre-approved curriculum, and to have a coach.  I make no guarantees of sending any members to any leader and can choose who to list on the website or catalog of available groups.  Are there problems?  Absolutely.  Am I going to make it possible for a much larger number of people to be connected in community where they can grow in Christ, love one another and further the work of the Kingdom?  I believe so.  To me, crowd-to-core wins every time.

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

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  1. Michael Wardell on January 14, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    I don’t know. I never thought of it as an either-or question. I guess the Crowd to core has more failures, but many more successes, so net kingdom win. Then again, the coaches need to come from somewhere, and having some when you start really helps bootstrap up. A least to me. So I could see a core to core and a crowd to core working together. Kind of like Jesus preaching, and his disciples. Or the disciples and the deacons.

  2. Mark Howell on January 15, 2010 at 6:41 am

    Thanks for jumping in Mike! You observation takes me back to my answer to Matt Harmer in the article that preceded this one. It’s not that you wouldn’t have some core-to-crowd elements at play (such as the development of coaches), it’s that you wouldn’t emphasize both equally or in the same way. Developing coaches would need to happen but wouldn’t happen from the platform on Sunday a.m.

  3. Josh Hunt on January 15, 2010 at 7:46 am


    He seemed to be core to crowd.

    Josh Hunt

  4. Mark Howell on January 15, 2010 at 8:00 am

    A valid question…but I believe if you look carefully at the Gospels you find that Jesus gathered a crowd, gave them opportunities to take spiritual next steps, and selected the Apostles about midway through his 3 year ministry. In a core-to-crowd strategy he would have begun with the 12, poured into them exclusively, and run a down-line operation (like G12) prior to His Ascension.

  5. Josh Hunt on January 15, 2010 at 8:06 am

    Have you read Coleman’s classic Master Plan of Evangelism? Everything I know about this I learned from him. Here is the opening lines:

    It all started by Jesus calling a few men to follow him. This revealed immediately the direction his evangelistic strategy would take. His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow. Remarkable as it may seem, Jesus started to gather these men before he ever organized an evangelistic campaign or even preached a sermon in public. Men were to be his method of winning the world to God.The Master Plan of Evangelism.

    Josh Hunt
    Good Questions Have Groups Talking

  6. Mike Mack on January 16, 2010 at 8:50 am

    I think Michael Wardell just defined what I’d call the strategy I’m using at our church: “core to crowd to core.” But, as Josh is saying, I believe it must start with the core. While Jesus didn’t come just to give us a bunch of strategies, I think we can certainly learn a lot from how he carried out his ministry. Jesus didn’t start with the 12. He started with the 3, his core team that he personally invested into.

  7. Mark Howell on January 16, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Thanks for jumping in Mike! I understand what you’re thinking, but I think it’s actually more likely that the identification of the 12 (and of the 3) happened after Jesus had already begun to develop a reputation and gather a following. In fact, many scholars believe that he chose the 12 about midway through his 3 year ministry.

  8. Mark Howell on January 16, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Thanks Josh. I have read Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelism, but really believe it is an excellent tool for learning how to invest in people. It isn’t intended to be taken as a timeline of Jesus’ ministry. I think it’s more commonly held that Jesus selected the 12 about midway through his 3 year ministry.

    I don’t want to slip too far afield from the idea that it’s not that there wouldn’t be core-to-crowd elements at work at all times. I’ve just found it to be less compelling to believe that depending on the building into a few with the idea that they’re going to go out is an effective strategy.