How Important Is It To Have An Apprentice? (Part Two)

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I began this discussion in an earlier post.  You'll remember that I suggested that there is a question that precedes the one we're discussing here.  If you haven't read part one, you should do that now and then come back.

You back?  Ok…now let's talk about whether apprenticing is important.  First off, let's be honest.  Apprenticing is not a bad idea.  It's just not sufficient.  If you did the calculation I suggested in part one, you've already realized that the gap between the number of leaders you have and the number you need is too large to be covered by an apprentice strategy.  Right?  And that doesn't assume growth.  If you're in a church that is growing, the gap will be widening. 

But maybe your conviction is based on the idea that if you consistently apply the apprentice model you will eventually have enough leaders.  Really?  What about the unconnected adults in your congregation?  Can they afford to wait for the apprentice idea to produce enough leaders?  Can you afford to wait for the apprentice strategy to produce enough leaders?

Had enough?  Here's one more before we move on.  If you're going to rely on the apprentice idea, let me insist that you measure your results.  In my experience, most "apprentices" never actually leave the group.  Oh, they'll lead when the leader is out of town.  They might lead when the leader is sick.  And they might take over if the leader moves away.  But most apprentices never leave the group to start another group.  There are always exceptions.  But they are exceptions.  And that is a problem.  If the idea of the apprentice strategy is that it will produce quality leaders over time who will allow you to double and then double again the number of leaders in your organization…well, you need to measure your results.

So what does work?  If there is a gap between the number of leaders you have and the number of unconnected adults in your congregation who need to be in a group, what are you going to do?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Encourage your groups to rotate facilitators.  One of the predictors of groups that produce additional leaders is what Brett Eastman calls "the crock pot of leadership development."  Groups that rotate facilitators make it easy for members to see that they can do it.  (Caution: for a group to rotate facilitators they will need to use a format or curriculum that makes it easy to pass around.  Small groups that are "taught" by a Bible "expert" will have a difficult time encouraging others to take a turn.)
  2. Encourage your group members to take turns hosting the group at their homes.  When groups meet at more than one location they'll be more likely to produce additional leader candidates.  After all, they've done it before!  (Caution: this works best if the alternate locations are in the same general area.  Homes that are significantly out of the area are rarely a good choice.)
  3. Do a church-wide campaign once a year.  When you use a campaign that aligns a weekend message series with a small group study that is easy to use (DVD-driven) it is easy to encourage unconnected adults to consider hosting a new group.  
  4. Occasionally ask your existing groups to consider taking a "six-week vacation" to help launch a few new small groups.  Often used as part of church-wide campaign strategy, this is a great way to help your small group members put a toe in the water of leading their own group.  Assuring them that they can return to their old group after 6 weeks is often all they need to give it a try.  Many of those who try find that the experience is so meaningful that they decide to stay with the new group. 
  5. Hold a Small Group Connection to connect people and identify potential leaders.  One of the realities in many churches is that there are potential leaders that no one knows.  The connection strategy does a great job of finding them.

Is the apprentice strategy a bad idea?  No!  It just isn't sufficient.  If you want to connect all of your adults you'll need additional ways to multiply leaders.  Have you found others that work?  I'd love to hear about what's working!

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