Category: Small Groups
One of the best aspects of offering semester-based small groups like I teach in my book Activate is that you have the opportunity to lead your people through a wide range of topics.
We have groups that study everything from prayer and spiritual leadership to honoring God with your finances.
And one of the most helpful topics for small groups to study – both for the personal discipleship of your people and for the overall health of your church – is Evangelism.
I was recently asked for some of the best books I’ve seen used in Small Groups to raise the evangelistic temperature of your church, so here are a few good ones:
- Becoming a Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg
- Go Fish by Andy Stanley
- The Unexpected Adventure by Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg
- The Conspiracy of Kindness by Steve Sjogren
- The Externally Focused Church by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson
What book would you add to this list?
P.S. If you’re looking to use a Big Day to help raise the Evangelistic temperature of your church, check out The Ignite Seminar.
In fact, we like to keep track of all sorts of measurements at The Journey – from Connection Card completion rates to how many first-time guest books are given away each week.
So, it seems natural that one of the questions I’m frequently asked about Small Groups is:
How do you measure the weekly attendance of your small groups?
And it comes as a shock to many when my answer is… we don’t!
(take a deep breath – it’s OK – still with me?)
Let me qualify.
The best measure of the health of your Small Groups system is Leader Retention (how many leaders come back and lead again and again).
With that in mind, we don’t add one more task to the weekly routine of our group leaders by having them count, record and send in their group attendance every week.
We check in with group leaders throughout the semester to assist and encourage them and to find out how their groups are going.
And as the semester draws to a close, we ask each group leader this question:
On a good week, what was your average attendance?
And that, combined with the feedback we’ve been collecting throughout the semester, gives us a good gauge of the health of that group.
Hope that helps!
P.S. If you’re ready to develop your semester-based Small Groups System to its maximum potential – and involve 100% of your church in groups – check out The Small Groups Intensive!
In Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups, Kerrick Thomas and I lay out a proven system of semester-based, free market small groups that you can implement to see 80, 90, or even 100% participation in small groups at your church (we regularly see well over 100% of our weekly attenders involved in groups).
However, we also employ a very different type of group at The Journey on a regular basis:
Play Groups are one-time events, primarily designed for new people or a particular niche in our church.
They are what it sounds like – a chance to have some fun and get to know some other people from The Journey.
These groups are low commitment – one time only, just show up and pay your own way.
Some examples could include: going bowling, meeting up at a ball game, or simply going to see a movie together (one of my personal favorites).
We use play groups mainly during times when we have a lot of new people coming into our church who can’t get connected to a regular small group immediately (ie: in the middle of group semesters, like July or after Easter). They also serve as a pre-small group promotion strategy just before a new semester starts.
Play groups are really just fun events – anyone can attend, but we normally target our invitations to new people.
P.S. For a great primer on the Activate Small Group System and how to implement it at your church, check out The Activate Seminar.
Some of most commonly asked small group Questions come from those who are interested in (sometimes in the middle of) transitioning their existing traditional small groups to the Activate, semester-based groups system.
We’ve asked Roy Mansfield – Pastor of Spiritual Development at Northstar Church in Panama City, Florida – to share what he has learned through the process of transitioning to Semester-Based Small Groups. Enjoy:
Top 4 Learnings in Transitioning From Traditional to Semester Based Small Groups
I’ve had the privilege of transitioning a church with traditional Sunday School to Semester Based Small Groups.
We grew from about 5% of our weekly Sunday attenders in Sunday School to 106% of our weekly Sunday attenders in Small Groups.
Here’s my top 4 learnings from the transition:
1) Make sure the Lead Pastor is fully committed to becoming a church of small groups.
If the church’s lead pastor does not see the vital importance of you becoming a church OF small groups instead of a church WITH small groups the impact of small groups in your church will never be maximized. Here’s two tests to see if your Lead Pastor is fully committed:
- Is the Lead Pastor participating in and/or leading a small group?
- Does the Lead Pastor regularly weave stories of his (and others) small group experiences in the weekend messages? CLICK HERE to get a copy of The book “Activate” that will further explain the benefits of becoming a church of small groups.
2) Launch semester based small groups with a church wide campaign
If your first small group semester is linked to a church wide campaign where the weekend teaching (and other ministries) are connected to your small groups it has the potential to build a great deal of extra momentum. CLICK HERE to see an example of an effective church wide campaign.
3) Launch semester based small groups as an “experiment.”
Especially if you have people who are having a good experience in traditional, ongoing (i.e. “I’m in this small group until Jesus comes back”) small groups, you will get pushback on the idea of “taking a break” for a month 3 times a year.
Let them know that you are going to try a semester of small groups during your church wide campaign. Be prepared to make a decision about half way through your church wide campaign.
In the middle of the excitement of your campaign let people know that things have been going so well that all of the groups are going to take a break for a month after the campaign to sign people up for the next semester.
4) Every person must sign up for a group every semester
Do not allow leaders to present their group as “already full” when group sign ups begin. Some leaders will say that all of their group members from the last semester want to stay together so they do not have any more room in their group.
Let the leaders know that you always ask everyone to sign up for a group each semester so there is always an opportunity for new people to get plugged into a group.
P.S. For everything you need to build an effective semester-based small group system check out The Small Group Intensive
Ever since Kerrick Thomas and I wrote the book Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups, we get a lot of questions from readers wondering if the Activate (semester-based) small groups system will work in their setting, whatever that setting may look like.
Perhaps the most common of these questions is “The Journey is in New York City, but will this system work in a more suburban (even rural) setting?”
So, today we have a guest blogger – Roy Mansfield, who leads small groups at a great suburban church in Panama City, Florida (Northstar Church). He’s going to share some of what he’s learned about implementing and finding success with Activate Small Groups in a very different setting than NYC:
Top 5 “Suburban” Semester Based Small Group Learnings
I have had the privilege of living my early elementary years in a rural setting in Alaska (and by “rural” I mean shoot-a-moose-once-a-year-for-meat-walk-over-a-mile-through-the-snow-to-get-to-the-bus-stop-no-indoor-plumbing kind of “rural”).
I have also had the privilege of leading semester based small group ministries in local churches in an urban (New York City – humbly titled “The Capital of the World”) setting, as well as a suburban (Panama City. FL – affectionately titled “The Redneck Riviera”) setting.
My experience is that people in every setting are at their core, very similar.
With that being said, here are the top 5 principles that I have found to be helpful to highlight when developing semester based small groups in a suburban setting:
1) Recognize that children are an opportunity to maximize your small group’s experience.
The best group experiences are always when a group takes the opportunity to do something together that resembles real life. You’ve probably noticed that few people spend much of their “real lives” sitting in a circle talking about The Bible. Learning God’s Word together is one of the greatest benefits of group life, but the opportunity to apply what they learn as a group will always maximize their experience.
Beginning your group’s semester by finding a way to serve one another by caring for the children is one of the best ways to help people to begin functioning as group participants. Without a challenge like this, many group members will just be spectators looking for what they can “get out of the group.”
For some practical suggestions on how to go about handling small group childcare CLICK HERE to view an earlier CLI blog post on the subject.
2) Encourage leaders with “small homes” to host the group in someone else’s home.
I have found that the more comfortable people are, the more comfortable they think they need to be. In New York City group leaders seemed happy to cram 15 people into their apartment’s 10 x 12 living room and suburban homeowners seem to think it impossible for 12 people to fit in their living room twice that size.
Many potential small group leaders will decline leading because “their home isn’t big enough.” We always encourage potential small group leaders with that objection to list in our small group catalogue the area their group will meet, and then give the opportunity to host the group to members who sign up for the group.
Someone is always happy to host and now there is another family or person who has ownership of the group.
3) Divide group snack responsibilities
Because our goal is always small group participants instead of spectators, snacks are another great way to get people involved. Give 3 people the opportunity for “snack service” every time your group meets. Have someone sign up to bring “salty snacks,” someone to bring “sweet snacks” and someone to bring drinks.
You should schedule everyone for every meeting of the semester your first night. CLICK HERE to download a sample sign up sheet.
4) Try a semester of interest-based groups
Give leaders the chance to lead a group that is centered around something that interests them. This is a great thing to do during your summer semester. Encourage people to center their group around something they would likely do anyway. Running, beach, movie, horseback riding, fishing and craft groups have all been successful.
You ask the group leader to take a few minutes to have someone share a 5 min. devotional, pray for one another and then begin your activity. This kind of group is far less intimidating for most new leaders and it’s a great way to build their confidence to eventually lead a book discussion group.
5) Find your community’s place on the stalker/apathy continuum
If you are signing up new people in groups you will always have some who do not attend the group consistently (or even at all). You will want to figure out how to reach out to those people so they know how much they matter to you (and to God) without become an irritation.
You will need to consider the different methods of communication (i.e. phone, email, texting, facebook, twitter and even (gasp) face to face communication). Then decide what communication strategy will be most effective in your community. For example, I found that people in Panama City are more comfortable with a phone call than people in New York City were.
Our general response strategy to someone who does not attend their group is:
1. Keep them on the list of people who receive the group’s weekly emails throughout the semester (unless they request to be removed).
2. Contact them with a “light hearted, we missed you” phone call within 36 hours of the group they missed.
3. Limit the “we missed you” phone calls to 2-3 for the group semester.
P.S. To learn more about how to effectively implement small groups at your church (regardless of the setting) check out The Small Group Intensive.
This is Kerrick Thomas here, Executive Pastor at The Journey and co-author of Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups.
Nelson asked me share today about another one of the questions that people ask regularly when setting up their Small Groups System – the question of whether or not to identify small groups by age, or to ask it differently, should you offer “age-graded” groups?
This is often asked by people who are transitioning from a Sunday School model or another approach that traditionally identified groups by age, and like a lot of questions when it comes to small groups the answer is… it depends.
Here at The Journey, we do identify some groups by age – but not all.
For instance, we have college-aged, recent grads, 20′s, 30′s, over 35 and over 40 groups. But many of our groups are just open, “general” groups for people of all ages. Our average age is 29, so we’re still pretty young as a church.
My thought would be that the more diverse you are, age-wise, the more you might want to designate the groups.
We’ll also talk with the group leaders about it. Usually, if the leaders are especially young or are older – you might think about designating by age as well.
I hope that helps!
P.S. If you’re ready to get intense with maximizing your church’s Small Groups system, check out The Small Groups Intensive.
This is Kerrick Thomas – I’m the Executive Pastor at The Journey Church and co-author of “Activate” with Nelson.
He asked me to address a question today that we receive regularly about when and how to start Small Groups in a new church plant.
We’re often asked if the Activate small groups system will work in a small church plant, and let me just say “yes,” I believe the “Activate” strategy of semester-based small groups does work for a small church plant (under 100 people).
Remember – The Journey was a church plant of about 80 people when we started semester-based small groups 7 months into the church.
We often caution people not to try to launch and start groups at the same time, because of the energy it takes away from the other systems of your church in the early days. However, six months after launch (or if you’re already running over 100 adults) is a good time to get your groups started.
Let’s say you just launched this past February, this would be my suggestion to you… begin your small groups this Fall with what we describe in “Activate” as a church-wide campaign.
In other words – develop a teaching series for the Fall that ties in with the small group curriculum you will be using and have all of the small groups study the same material. That way – all of the groups are studying the same material every day and it ties in directly with what you are teaching on Sundays.
In the other semesters, we give our small group leaders the freedom to choose the study they lead (with approval and direction from our staff). But every Fall we do a campaign where all the groups study the same material.
We find it gives a lot of momentum and synergy to the church.
Here are some ideas to prepare for your full-church campaign:
1 – You and another staff person might consider leading a couple of small groups this summer with people in your church who you would like to be the small group leaders for the fall.
2 – Start sign ups for your Fall groups shortly after school starts back in the Fall. For us in NYC that’s Labor Day. We begin sign ups that weekend and then kick the groups off a month later (the first week of October).
3 – Pick a study that allows you to teach on the topic on Sunday and have the groups reading about it during the week (and then they discuss it together in their groups). We even sometimes provide daily devotions to everyone signed up for a group by e-mail.
4 – A good example of curriculum is “The Purpose Driven Life” and the “40 Days of Purpose Campaign”. Each Sunday you teach on one of the purposes and the groups are reading the “Purpose Driven Life” during the week.
Hope this helps give you some ideas!
P.S. For more on implementing a semester-based Small Groups System in your church, check out the three-hour audio training: The Activate Seminar.
Adam Bishop here, Small Groups Pastor at The Journey. Nelson asked me to post today about how to get your full staff involved in Small Groups.
In Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups, Nelson and Kerrick mention that The Journey has a scalable structure for our small group system, including “Coaches.”
Sometimes we’re asked who makes up that “Coach” level of the system and what purpose they serve, so first, let me clarify the language we use at The Journey.
In our system, we have Growth Group Leaders, Team Leaders, and Coaches:
- Growth Group Leaders lead the Groups- providing leadership, communication and care to the Group Members.
- Team Leaders provide communication and care to the Group Leaders on their team.
- Coaches provide communication and care to both the Team Leaders and the Group Leaders on their team.
At The Journey, our Coaches are our staff.
This goes back to Big Idea #9 from Activate – Think Full Staff Participation, Not Staff Specialist…
The “Coaching” level of the structure provides a clear plan to involve all of our staff in the leadership of Groups at our church.
Now, from one staff person to the next the amount of time spent on groups varies, but everyone spends at least some time working on Groups.
No matter the size of your church right now, you can build this full staff participation into place as you increase the number of Groups and staff at your church.
The key to successfully implementing the Activate system (or any healthy small groups system) is to get away from having one “staff specialist” who does everything Small Groups, and develop a plan to involve your entire staff in the process.
You’ll find that this increases buy-in and excitement about groups, across the board, at your church.
I hope this helps!
P.S. For an in-depth training resource that’s all about the Activate, semester-based Small Groups System, check out The Small Groups Intensive.
Hey – I don’t want you to miss out on The Activate Webinar that Kerrick Thomas and Adam Bishop are leading tomorrow (January 20) at 1:00 Eastern.
If you’re currently doing semester-based (Activate) small groups or are considering them, this is a great training opportunity for you.
Best of all, there are no travel plans required - you can join Kerrick and Adam in this training from your home or office – you just need a computer with internet access and a phone line.
One registration per church is required - that means you can gather around as many of your team as possible to listen in.
Here are the details:
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
1:00 pm – 3:00 pm (Eastern)
12:00 pm – 2:00 pm (Central)
11:00 am – 1:00 pm (Mountain)
10:00 am – 12:00 pm (Pacific)
Here’s what you can expect to learn:
- How do I get 100% of my church involved in small groups?
- What are the basic elements of an effective small groups system?
- How do I recruit and train enough small-group leaders?
- What are the myths that are holding back my small groups?
- What is a good structure for small-group ministry?
- How do I get small groups involved in serving and evangelism?
- How do I get started?
P.S. Since Kerrick and Adam are on the front lines of the latest Activate Small Groups thinking, you may want to consider applying for their upcoming Small Groups Pastor Tele-Coaching Network. For more info or to download an application, click here.
One regular concern that I am asked about when it comes to Activate (semester-based) Small Groups is “how do we handle childcare?”
Recently, my friend Roy Mansfield (Small Groups Pastor at Northstar Church in Panama City) shared some of his thoughts and best practices on how to best accommodate the children of Small Group participants.
He gave me permission to re-print his insights AND to share some of their documents with you:
We have a large number of children in our church. I’ve found that there are several issues that are often viewed as challenges but are really wonderful opportunities to have a much more effective small group.
We have a handout (see below) that we give to our small group leaders of different possible child care options that they can use as a tool to decide how their group will take care of the children in their group.
The first time the group meets together they see the makeup of the children and their ages. The leader leads the group to decide how they will take care of the children. I equip the leaders to look at the makeup of the physical home and children and then suggest the best way to care for the children.
This is s fantastic opportunity for the group! The first time they meet together they have the opportunity to find a way to work together to care for one another. Leaders also have a sign up sheet (see below) that is used to give people the opportunity to take turns to watch the kids (if that’s the way they choose to care for the kids).
We also have groups do outreaches together. They all serve together at least once a semester in a Sunday service as well. As you will see from the sign up sheet we try to give as many people as possible a responsibility in the group. This transfers ownership to the group members as much as possible.
We do allow group leaders to list their group as “all children welcome” “unable to accommodate preschool children” or “unable to accommodate children” but we encourage as many groups as possible to be open to accommodate all children. See below for a sample groups list that we give to everyone to choose a group.
I hope this is a help.
Great thoughts – Here are those documents:
- Group Sign Up – Snacks, Childcare, Host Home (.doc)
- Small Group Childcare Options (.doc)
- Small Group Catalog (.pdf)
Thanks so much Roy!
P.S. To learn more about how to effectively implement small groups at your church (regardless of the setting) check out The Small Group Intensive.
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