GroupLife Insights from William Vanderbloemen and Justin Lathrop

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I think one of the most important practices we can develop is to be constantly sharpening our awareness of what’s happening, what’s growing in influence, around the country and even around the world.  And I really don’t mean just within our area of ministry.  I’m a fan of a much broader, more inclusive kind of idea acquisition.

So…when two of the sharpest cats in ministry staffing and search decided to throw in together and combine efforts, I thought it might be a good time to pick their brains about the current grouplife trends they’re seeing as they work with some of the most interesting ministries out there.

Here’s my interview with William Vanderbloemen and Justin Lathrop:

Mark: You both get a unique look at many of the growing churches in America. Have you seen any new trends in the way churches implement small groups in their church?

William Vanderbloemen: Great question: I see four trends:

  1. Bigger Groups – I’m seeing a whole lot of movement toward “large small groups.”  Some people call them “mid-sized groups.”  They are a response to a need in many of our clients’ settings, usually settings where brand new believers are a bit too skeptical to move into a group of 8-10 people and share their life.  The new believers are so wary, they need a larger setting, like 20 people to feel comfortable and to connect.  And if you think about it, that’s a whole lot like what we used to call “Sunday School.” (see my article, Missional Communities, Midsize Groups and Sunday School)
  2. Missional Groups – I know it’s an overused catchphrase, but our churches are finding that groups who serve together are much more likely to stick than anything else.  Many of our clients are fast growth churches reaching people who are far from God and don’t like religion.  But if you ask them to serve together, that’s a whole different matter.  That’s different from the days when we thought people had to be in a group before they would volunteer.
  3. Message Based Groups – More than ever, I see our clients writing short, thought provoking curriculum from the weekly message and using that for their groups.  I don’t see a whole lot of small groups curriculum like we saw in the 90’s and early last decade.
  4. Dave Ramsey – I hate to point to one curriculum over anything else, but honestly, I don’t think we have a client that’s NOT using Dave.  He’s a friend, so you should know I don’t gain from plugging him.  In fact, I’m pretty sure if he were single, my wife would run off with him!  But the perfect storm of credit crisis, new economy, and a lack of parental training for a generation has made this guy’s stuff the single best curriculum for a church.  Not only is it sticky, it has become the evangelism tool for a whole lot of folks we work with.

Mark: What difference your new partnership make to a small group pastor looking for a new position or a senior pastor looking for a small group pastor?

William: Before, Justin’s company did great mid-level searches, and we focused on the Senior Pastor Searches, church succession planning, and Executive Pastor searches.  Now that we have united, we can confidently say that we staff the whole Church.  It means that our ability to work with candidates and churches at all levels has increased geometrically. And that will help small group pastors.

Justin Lathrop: Along with what William said, small groups staffing looks different in every church.  In some churches that position is filled with an Executive Pastor and in others it is more of a mid-level role.  We now have the ability to help churches in their search for that role no matter where it fits in their org chart.

Mark: What are some other staffing trends you’re seeing right now?

Justin: I’m seeing more and more emphasis on communications and social media, even in the form of a Chief Communications Officer.

William: Additionally I see two things:

  1. A focus on spending more money on fewer staff.  People are hiring coaches…leaders of leaders, who can train players in the church to handle the ball.
  2. I am also seeing the church begin to wake up to the coming crisis of succession planning.  It’s probably the number one search we are asked to do.

Mark: Tell me what you’ve seen as a success formula for small group pastors and directors having a great relationship with and influence with the Senior Pastors?

Justin: There are so many different models out there for growing groups.  Many of them have been successful within their unique context.  My advice to the “groups guys” is to trust the lead pastor and the direction they see for the future of groups in the context of that specific church.  This doesn’t mean not to bring your ideas of how to do it best, but make sure they are brought with an attitude of support to your pastor versus a “know-it-all” one.

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