I've been doing this awhile. I was thinking about this not too long ago and realized that my first try at building a small group system was in 1984. I don't know what you were doing in 1984, but that was the year Apple ran the 1984 commercial during Super Bowl XVIII. Ronald Reagan was elected to his second term as President of the United States. Terms of Endearment won the Best Picture and crack cocaine was first introduced in Los Angeles.
I've been doing this awhile.
And there are a few questions that I'm asked over and over and again and again.
One of the most frequently asked questions is, "What's the best way to find and recruit new small group leaders?"
Ever wondered that? Ever researched that question?
Here's how I answer it when I have a few minutes: When I began I did what most people do. I was leading a college ministry and had been influenced by Campus Crusades "student led, staff driven" philosophy, so I thought about the students I knew who might make good leaders and asked them if they'd lead a group. That worked pretty well. Most of the guys and girls I recruited were a little more spiritually mature than average. I don't remember any significant train wrecks.
This was my strategy for the next few years. It worked until I was in a church where there were more people that I didn't know than people I knew. I began asking my existing leaders if there was someone in their group that might make a good leader. And that produced a few new leaders from time to time. In that particular case it didn't produce enough new leaders to connect the number of people who had signed up for a group.
Ever been there?
The challenge of finding enough new leaders to connect a growing number of unconnected people forced me to begin running a bulletin blurb offering a training course for people who were interested in leading a small group. It was a reasonable strategy that seemed like a good idea at the time but really didn't work very well. Certainly, some of the sign-ups were good people, but I discovered that many of the people who signed up for the course often had their own agenda and were really not suited to lead.
Ever been there?
Then, in 1999 I ended up at a church that had grown very quickly in its first few years and hadn't really connected anyone. The first thing they did when I said I'd help them was hand me a stack of sign-up forms from people who wanted to be in a small group. The stack of forms was from the last several months and was 6 or 7 inches tall.
Ever been there? Maybe not exactly there, but you've had waaaay more people who are unconnected than connected and no way to find enough leaders to start enough groups to connect that many people?
You know how they say that "necessity is the mother of invention?" Maybe you've thought it was "desperation is the mother of invention?" I know I did when I saw the stack of sign-up forms!
Actually, the stack of sign-up forms created enough angst on the part of our senior pastor and staff that they were ready for a solution. "Any solution! Just get these people connected!"
I had heard about a strategy that Saddleback was using called a small group connection that would identify leaders from amongst the people who wanted to join a group and attended the event. Like everyone else, they had tried just about everything to find enough leaders to connect the people who wanted to join a group. At some point, you simply can't know who everyone is and therefore you can't know who the best available leaders are.
So...I was given permission to try Saddleback's small group connection strategy. I took the stack of sign-up forms and contacted them to invite them to an event on a Sunday after the 11:00 a.m. service. We also ran an announcement in the bulletin and announced the event from the platform for 2 or 3 weeks.
We had a very large group sign up and a large group show up. I don't remember the specifics for that one event, but over the next 15 months we started around 150 groups and kept 120 of them going. That is, we ran an event that helped about a thousand people identify over a hundred leaders. Leaders we didn't know. You can read about the small group connection strategy right here.
In late 2002 we tried our first church-wide campaign. We were one of the first churches to try Saddleback's host strategy. I shook my head when I heard what the plan was. It seemed crazy at a time when the connection strategy was working so well. But...when Kerry Shook asked our congregation who would be willing to host a group in their home nearly 1000 people stood up. Hello!
Now, don't get me wrong. Both the connection strategy and the host strategy have problems. They are not problem-free. But they also find leaders, good leaders, when every other method has struggled or failed outright to keep up with demand.
Over the last few years we've continued to innovate. The connection strategy and the host strategy look different than they did when we first used them. And we're still looking for the next wrinkle. In the fall of 2014 we tweaked the language of the host strategy and had amazing results. You can read about it in Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game...Again.
Top 10 Articles on Identifying and Recruiting Small Group Leaders
I've organized these articles chronologically, so you can see the progression.
- Problem-Free Leader Identification and Recruitment
- Small Group Leaders: Finding, Recruiting and Developing
- The Upside of Reluctant Leaders
- My Top 3 Ninja Ideas for Recruiting Small Group Leaders
- Three Realities in the Hunt for Small Group Leaders
- 8 Secrets for Discovering an Unlimited Number of Leaders
- 8 Things You Need to Know about Small Group Leaders
- How Can I Find More Leaders?
- True or False: Leaders with Apprentices Leads to More Groups?
- Has Blind Spot #1 Limited Your Small Group Ministry?
Image by Kevin