Narrowing the Focus Leads to a Church OF Groups

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One of the most important strategic decisions a church can make is to narrow the focus, a concept that is explained very well in the 7 Practices of an Effective Church.  Essentially, to narrow the focus is to concentrate on one thing (or a very few things) in an effort to conceive, develop and promote the opportunity that will have the greatest impact.

Narrowing the focus is an easy concept to understand…and a great challenge for churches to pull off.  What makes it so hard is that one of the Top 10 Fantasies of Churches with Groups is that “it is enough to promote small groups once a year, annually every fall, along with everything else that’s starting up with the new ministry season.” As you can see, there are two parts to this fantasy.  First, that promoting small groups once a year will actually get the job done and second, that you can promote small groups along with everything else that’s starting up for the new ministry year.

In this article I want to concentrate on the second part of the fantasy and suggest that if you want to become a church of groups…you must narrow the focus to only promote the opportunity to host a group (for the weeks that you are recruiting hosts) or joining a group (for the weeks that you are encouraging everyone to be in a group.  And to clarify, I’m really only talking about what you’re highlighting.  You might have other opportunities mentioned in the bulletin or on the website…but even there it would be clear what the big thing is.

Only Promote One Thing at a Time

I want you to be sure and catch what I just pointed out.  In fact, go back and read the previous paragraph.  Notice that you start by only promoting the opportunity to host.  You’re not talking about hosting (or leading) OR joining a group.  Once you begin talking about joining, you’ve recruited your last host.  Few, if any, sign up to host a group if you give them the chance to simply be a member.  Now back to the point.

The Real World

I want you to stop there and think about your church.  How likely is it that on the weeks you’re doing those things (recruiting hosts or recruiting members) that those are the only things you’re doing?  That those are the only things you’re promoting?

See the problem?  If you’re launching a church-wide campaign or ramping up for a small group connection, you will have the greatest impact if you are narrowing the focus to only promote those opportunities.  If you are also promoting the Beth Moore Bible study and the Men’s Fraternity along with the season opener of DivorceCare, GriefShare, Celebrate Recovery, Bible Study Fellowship and Community Bible Study…you’re going to have real trouble getting traction in any of those efforts.  Most importantly, you’re not setting up a scenario that leads to a church of groups.  By promoting everything, by promoting a buffet, you’re making it more difficult for your congregation to say “yes” to a group.

If you want to become a church of groups, you’ll need to narrow the focus (at least when you’re in launch mode) and really highlight grouplife opportunities.  Once the launch is secure you can begin to promote other opportunities.

Developing an Annual GroupLife Calendar

While we’re on the subject, let me add an important clarification.  You really can’t become a church of groups if you’re only working on it once a year.  Understanding the ebb and flow of seasons and taking a longer view is very important.  Developing an Annual GroupLife Calender is essential.

Getting to There

Are you already there?  Are you promoting the one thing that matters most when you come into a strategic season?  Or are you still living in fantasyland?  If you’re already on the way to a church of groups…good for you.  If you’re stuck in fantasyland, maybe scheduling an exploratory conversation about narrowing the focus for impact is the best next step.  It might be that bringing in (by phone or in person) a strategic outsider with fresh eyes is the ticket.  This is a role I play all the time.  You can find out more or schedule an opportunity right here.

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  1. joe on August 25, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    But if we promote one kind of group to a huge crowd of people at a point in time via our Group Link [people who are at all different places in their journey] with all sorts of needs/issues that our “general” small groups may or may not be able to support them at that point and some who need divorce care or a money group etc learn that they would have benefited more at this point with an issue specific group. For us it then becomes vital to do all we can to tee up all kinds of groups with leaders/facilitators that know what is expected of any small group in our church ministry – all must understand and work to accomplish our disciple-making focus whether they are recovery groups or a general small group. Thanks for reading! Joe McConkey, Pleasant Valley Church, Winona, MN

  2. Mark Howell on August 25, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Thanks for jumping in Joe! You are dead on when you point out that church-wide campaigns (or group link/small group connection) events best launch groups using a topic that has broad appeal and that there are many who have specific needs that will not be met by 40 Days of Purpose or One Month to Live. That is the role of DivorceCare or Celebrate Recovery. Absolutely correct.

    I’m simply pointing out that the best way to move from a church with groups to a church of groups is to periodically narrow the focus for 2 or 3 weeks to the one thing that will move the largest number of people. On the heels of a narrowed focus, you can come right back and begin to highlight seasonal opportunities for more specialized interest groups.

    One thing is clear. When several events/programs are highlighted in a single service…nothing is really highlighted. When you try and make everything important…nothing becomes important. While I’m definitely supportive of the idea that it takes all kinds of groups to meet the needs of all kinds of people (I’m paraphrasing Rick Warren’s well known quote), you get the greatest movement when you strategically narrow the focus.


  3. joe on August 25, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Thanks…agree…we’ve experienced that here too for a big yet short bump in small group participation and the residual value is worth it…but disciple-making is way too messy to stay on that church-wide diet of small grouping our people.

  4. Mark Howell on August 25, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    Right…not suggesting a 52 week diet of the same page. Only that it’s easier to move everyone in the same direction, get them moving toward life in community, and then let them settle into something specific to their needs. By the way, that’s true for everyone, not just recovery (CR, GriefShare, etc.) or a specialized topic like finances or marriage enrichment. As the church-wide campaign enters the 4th or 5th week there ought to be help that steers some groups to continue and find next steps for those that really need something else.