Five Numbers to Watch this Fall

I’m a numbers guy. I’ve always loved them. Math was my best subject in school, and I graduated college with a Business Management degree so I could count more numbers. When I was asked to become the Executive Pastor at the church I serve, counting numbers was the easiest part of the transition. Unfortunately, a lot of pastors don’t share my same love for numbers, but regardless there are a few numbers you need to pay close attention to this fall.

Historically, September through November has always been a season of growth at the church I serve. Summer is over and temperatures start dropping, which means people are spending less time on vacation or at the lake and more time showing up to church. The kids have gone back to school, and parents have gotten back into their regular routine.

It’s not uncommon to see ten to fifteen percent more people showing up to church in the fall than in the summer. More people gives you the chance to build momentum and get more people connected to the mission and vision of your church.

This fall should be a win for your church…if you measure it.

If you don’t measure it, how will you ever know when you’re winning?

Here are the five numbers I’ll be measuring, and I think you should be measuring them as well.

  • Attendance. Every pastor should be measuring weekly attendance. How many people are showing up at your church for weekend services? Once you get this number you need to do something more with it than just put it on a board in the back of your church. You need a way of tracking it over a long period of time. Church Metrics is a free online platform that allows you to do that and a lot more. Once you start tracking these numbers you can go back and compare them in order to give you a better idea of the health of your church.
  • Giving. I’m guessing even if you don’t count the attendance, you probably still count the offering, right? Of course you do, you’d be crazy not to. This fall I’m looking for my weekly giving numbers to be ten to fifteen percent higher than during the summer. How do I check that? You guessed it, Church Metrics.
  • Groups. The fall may be the best time of year to launch new groups. That’s why this fall I want to measure how many total groups the church is offering and how many total people are showing up to them. Groups are difficult in a small town. You can read my thoughts on why, here. But, they are vital to keeping people connected to the church. I’m really excited about our groups this fall, and I haven’t been able to say that in a couple of years. If your church offers Sunday school instead of groups, you can still use the same measurements.
  • Volunteers. The fall is also a great time to recruit new volunteers. The closer we get to Thanksgiving and Christmas it seems the more people get in the serving spirit. Just last month we added 15 new volunteers at one of our campuses. That’s huge in a small town church, but we still need more. So, this fall I’ll continue to measure the number of volunteers we have, as well as the number of new volunteers that have been recruited. If you need help recruiting and retaining volunteers, you can find out more here.
  • First Time Guests. One of the most important numbers I’ll be measuring this fall is the number of first time guests. They’re the key to church growth. I heard someone say once that in order for your church to grow the number of first time guests that visit during a year needs to exceed your average weekly attendance. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but it’s definitely a number we’re striving for. That means if your church averages 75 people on a weekend, then in order to grow you need to have more than 75 first time guests throughout the year.

Of course, we’ll also be measuring salvation and baptism numbers as well. We just don’t see as much change in those numbers during the fall. Again, you can track those using Church Metrics.

I’d love to hear some of your number goals for the fall. Are you trying to break 100 in weekly attendance? Trying to add 10 new volunteers? Trying to serve 50 first time guests? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe. Also, if you’re looking to grow your church this fall in an incredible way strongly consider becoming a part of the first ever Small Town Big Church Coaching Network. You can find more details here.

Why I Haven’t Given Up on Small Groups

If you’ve been following the blog for very long, you’ve probably noticed I have a love/hate relationship with small groups. For the ninety minutes or so I’m attending a group, I love it. Outside of those ninety minutes, I’ve tended to hate it more than anything. But over the past few months, I’m starting to have a Julia Stiles, Ten Things I Hate About You moment with it.

I hate the way you take up a free night

I hate it when the kids get in a fistfight

I hate it when no one wants to lead

Probably because they have an entire group to feed

I hate that I can’t find anyone to lead the ministry

And the fact that no one attends because of ball

But mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you

Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.

Before I wrote blogs, I wrote poetry. My mom said I had a gift.

Regardless, the truth is, as much as I want to hate groups, I have to admit I need them.

And so do you.

Here’s why:

  1. Groups are a great way to evangelize.

Your neighbors may not be ready to come to church just yet, but they would attend a group focused around how to make their marriage better. Once they’re a part of your group, they make friendships, their marriage gets better, and they realize maybe they need Jesus.

  1. Groups can be great for discipleship.

I’ve discovered most people aren’t thinking about how to grow closer to God. They have too much going on already, and it gets pushed to the background, unless they’re part of a group that talks about it.

  1. Groups can be a great way to identify and train new leaders.

If someone can lead a successful group, there’s a good chance they can lead a ministry. If they can’t lead a successful group, then you know they probably shouldn’t be leading a ministry. Either way, you’ve discovered something very important without much risk.

The benefits of a healthy group ministry are tremendous. I hesitate to say it because of my past frustrations, but I almost think it’s vital to the health of your church.

And so, I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of work to do in this area because it may be the difference between a stagnant and a growing church.

On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate the small group ministry at your church? Do you have any frustrations? I’d love to hear about it, so leave a comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Is Your Church Average?

I’m a big fan of Tony Morgan. If you’re not familiar with him, Tony is a church consultant and blogger who started a company called The Unstuck Group that is dedicated to helping churches get healthy. Several years ago, we brought Tony into our church and his insight was incredible. I highly recommend it. This week I got an email from him with some interesting statistics.

averagechurch

Did you know the average church has…

  • 59% of people in small groups or studies?
  • 45% of people on volunteer teams?
  • 7% of people baptized each year?
  • $43 given by the average person each week?
  • 1 staff member for every 77 attendees?

It didn’t take long for me to realize that my church isn’t average. Here’s what our numbers look like this year.

  • 30% of people in small groups or studies.

It’s no secret that we’re not great at small groups. We’re working to get better, but the struggle is real.

  • 40% of people on volunteer teams.

We have some incredible volunteers, but it seems to be getting a little harder to get people to start serving. We are putting some plans in place to grow this number going into next year.

  • 10% of people baptized this year.

The number I’m most proud of. We continue to see above average numbers in baptisms each year. A big part of this was offering a creek baptism during the summer. Many people want to be baptized the same way their parents or grandparents were, and that means going down to the creek.

  • $17 given by the average person each week.

Giving has to be the struggle of every small town church. At least I hope it is, or we’re doing something wrong. We continue to look for ways to teach people about finances, budgeting, and the importance of supporting the local church.

  • 1 staff member for every 110 attendees.

When giving is lower, staffing ratios are bound to be higher. We would love to hire another two to three people right now, but the budget just won’t allow it. We need to look for ways to get creative with volunteer staff or unpaid interns.

Tony’s research was based on a survey with over 200 churches. That may seem like a large sample, but when you consider that there are more than 300,000 churches in America that hardly scratches the surface.

Either way my church isn’t average, and I bet yours isn’t either.

How does your church compare? Post your numbers in the comments below, and if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on leadership, church growth, and more sent to your inbox each week.

Timing is Everything in Small Groups

I have a love/hate relationship with small groups. I love the community that comes from them, but I’m constantly frustrated on how hard it is to get people to show up. You can read more about my frustrations here, here, and here. But today’s post isn’t about venting my frustrations. It’s about timing, and when it comes to small groups, timing is everything.

all-by-myself

Last Fall I did a small group based around Andy Stanley’s sermon series “Staying in Love.” My wife and I love talking about marriage with other couples, and we’ve always had success getting people to show up. This group was no different. In fact, this group had so many couples sign up that we had to divide it into two different groups. It was a huge success.

Now, fast-forward a few months to this Spring, the month of May to be exact. My church launched a church-wide campaign around a series titled “From This Day Forward.” It was a five-week marriage series very similar to the group we had done in the Fall. My wife and I once again decided to host a group, only this time the results were much different. In fact no one showed up. Ok, one couple showed up one week, but that was it.

What happened? Did we suddenly lose all of our friends? Had people grown tired of talking about marriage? Were the snacks we offered not up to par with other groups? Possibly…but I think the more likely answer was bad timing.

Certain times are better for small groups than others. So, here are a few things you need to think about before scheduling your group.

  1. Time of the Year

Certain times of the year are busier than others. Plan on doing a group in December? Forget about it. Trying one over the summer? Good luck. I’ve found the best time of year for most people happens January to March and September to November. That just seems to be the sweet spot for small groups.

  1. Day of the Week

Weekends are generally off limits when it comes to group participation. People like their days off and try to keep them. The exception may be Sunday evenings. Some people who may have a history of going to church on Sunday evenings will be more likely to attend a group at that time, unless it’s football season, of course. Wednesday night is another good option. The other days of the week seem to be hit and miss depending on people’s schedules.

  1. Time of the Day

The biggest mistake I made with my group in May is scheduling it for Sunday afternoons right after service. I thought it made perfect sense. Why not eat lunch and talk about the message right after you’ve heard it? The problem is families do not like giving up their Sunday afternoons. When it comes to the time of day, evenings almost always work best.

When it comes to small groups, I’m not going to pretend I have all the answers. In fact I have very few answers. These are a few suggestions I would give to those starting out, but remember results may vary.

When have you found is the best time to launch groups? Let us know in the comments below, and if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered straight to your inbox.

3 Obstacles to Growing Groups in a Small Town

Few things frustrate me as much as trying to grow a groups’ ministry in a small town. What makes it worse is all the experts who seem to have groups’ ministry figured out. Somehow, they never seem to have to deal with the same obstacles that I have to deal with.

SmallGroupSmallTown

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy groups. Quite the contrary, I’ve loved every group I’ve ever been a part of. But I’ve come to realize recruiting group leaders and group attenders comes with a lot of obstacles–obstacles that most books and blog posts aren’t going to talk about.

Obstacles like…

  • What do we do with the kids? That’s easy, right? Hire a babysitter because everyone in a small town has plenty of money to pay another ten to twenty dollars a week to attend a gathering that they’re already unsure about. I have a hard enough time trying to find a babysitter to watch my kids when I want to take my wife on a date. Now, I have to find one during the week.

Simple fix, bring the kids to group with you. What group leader wouldn’t want an extra ten to twelve kids tearing down their house? Overly dramatic? Maybe…maybe not. We’ve seen and heard about multiple things broke in homes, including a kid’s arm.

  • How do we find the time? For most people, living in a small town means a longer commute to work for both husband and wife. My wife drives 45 minutes each way. On the days she works, it’s not uncommon for her to arrive home after 6pm. That gives us about two hours to eat dinner, give the kids a bath, and do any homework before their bedtime. Good luck trying to fit a group into that window.

That scenario is not taking into consideration the times during the year when the kids are involved in extracurricular activities. And let’s be honest, if you don’t have your kids in at least one extracurricular activity, you’re the exception not the norm. In the spring, our six year old will be playing tee ball. That means two practices a week, and a game or two every Saturday for roughly three months. Which means I’m unavailable March, April, May, and part of June for All Stars.

  • What if someone weird shows up? I’m sure it doesn’t happen at your church, but weird people show up to my church. It’s kind of a side effect of being really nice to everyone and offering free doughnuts. If you need help identifying them, they’re usually the people who hang around after service to talk to the pastor. All the normal people tend to go home.

You may know them by different names such as: the really smelly guy, the woman who disguises gossip for prayer requests, the guy who looks like an 80’s porn star, and the kid who just devoured a dozen doughnuts.

Now you may be so holy that you can’t wait to wash Weirdo’s feet, but for the rest of us, we’re scared to death that they’re going to sign up for our group. By week two, it’s going to be just us and Smelly there because everyone else abandoned ship.

These are just a few of the obstacles I’ve been thinking through, but I’m sure there’s more. This has led me to ask myself, how much community do we really need? I mean we’re already more connected than ever before because of social media. Our families are involved in so many things. At what point are we asking too much of our people? How can we make sure groups are a blessing, and not a burden? That’s the question I’m trying to figure out.

Do you offer groups at your church? Do you think it’s working? I’d love to hear from some small town pastors who have figured this out.

Small Groups for the Rest of Us

An Interview with Chris Surratt

One of my favorite reads of the year so far has been Small Groups for the Rest of Us: How to Design Your Small Groups System to Reach the Fringes by Chris Surratt. It is the best and most practical book I’ve read on creating a small group system in your church. Imagine my excitement when Chris agreed to let me ask him a few questions about his new book, and how to make small groups work for your church.

SmallGroupsForTheRestOfUs

  1. Your new book is “Small Groups for the Rest of Us”, who are the “Rest of Us”?

As an introvert by nature, I have always felt left out by most small group systems. Between the connection hoops and the demand to share my secret sins in a room full of strangers, small groups felt like an intimidating concept. While thinking through how we could better design a system to reach people like me, I started running into other groups of people we were missing through our processes. If we were going to say we believed in community for everyone, what does that look like? The typical small group system is designed for the typical church attender. We have to begin thinking differently if we want to reach the people on the fringes.

  1. In your book you say, to the church outsider small groups are weird, I totally agree, how can the church overcome that perception?

I think a good start would be to acknowledge the awkwardness from the beginning. When pitching the idea of small groups to our congregations, the tendency is to only play up the potential benefits – which there are many – but a lot of people are only thinking about how scary and weird it seems to show up at a stranger’s house and “do life together.” Church leaders should publicly acknowledge how big a step joining a group is and offer to make it as easy and weird-free as possible.

  1. Would you say message studies based around the Sunday sermon are the best curriculum for groups, why or why not?

I think they are great starting point for any group. I don’t believe every group should do them or groups should use them forever, but well written sermon-based studies take a lot of the potential hurdles away for a new group. There is no cost. Homework for the group members is showing up for church or listening to the podcast. It reinforces the message beyond Sunday morning. New groups can use them for a semester while they get a pulse on what type of group they have.

  1. I love the idea of the group curriculum menu that you discuss in your book, do you think narrowing the options helps produce more leaders?

Producing a curriculum menu or map has several benefits for groups.

  • It takes the burden of what to study next off of the small group leader and puts it on the staff. Most group leaders want to be lead on what their group should be studying. Any step that we can take off of our leaders will help attract new leaders.
  • It gives a clearly defined discipleship path for groups to follow.
  • It gives doctrinal fences for the groups to stay in. There a lot of curriculum choices out there, and not all of them will line up with your church’s dogma.
  1. You talk about how important it is for the Senior Pastor to be involved in a group, why do so many pastors resist this?

It’s scary for some senior leaders to think about exposing their lives to a small group of church attenders. That’s why I believe it’s important to allow the pastor to hand pick his group if possible. It’s also essential to give him the option of not leading the group. He has to lead everything else, so a small group should be an environment where there is safety and low-pressure to “perform.”

  1. Can you talk about the difference between open groups and closed groups, and why churches need both?

Open and closed groups can serve different purposes in a discipleship ministry. For instance, closed groups can have more accountability for spiritual growth than an open group. An open group can be more evangelistic by leaving room for for neighbors and friends to join. However, there are downsides to both. Closed groups can become stale and stop growing spiritually if together for too long. Open groups are difficult for new people to join because they already have established relationships. It’s like joining a new school in 10th grade.

  1. In the book you state, “Our goal for small groups is to feed people into our ministry teams as they discover their gifts for service in the church.”. Can that happen in a fun group, like volleyball or date night? Why or why not?

It can definitely happen, but I believe you have to make sure to define what the expectations for a small group are before labeling everything in the church a group. An affinity group can work well for assimilating someone into serving in the church, but are they being discipled? What is the mechanism for helping someone take their next step and can a volleyball group provide it? Those are questions every church has to think through when designing their discipleship system.

  1. What would be your best piece of advice for a pastor who is wanting to begin a small group ministry in his or her church?

Read and attend everything you possibly can. When I took over the small group ministry at my last church, I immersed myself in every book and blog written on the topic. And I know a pretty good book to start with! 🙂 There are also great conferences put on by churches who have been there and done that. Find a way to attend one and connect with as many other practitioners as possible. The small group world loves to support each other. The Small Group Network is an awesome community to be a part of. Please don’t do it alone!

Chris Surratt is a ministry consultant and coach with over twenty-two years of experience serving the local church. Chris served on the Executive Teams at Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and Seacoast Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He also manages SmallGroup.com for LifeWay Christian Resources. Chris’s first book, Small Groups For The Rest Of Us: How to Design Your Small Groups System to Reach the Fringes, was just released by Thomas Nelson.

How to Measure Small Group Success

I’m probably not the best person to be speaking about small groups. The church in which I serve as the Small Group Director has never seen more than about thirty percent of our congregation in groups at any one time. Small group experts would probably call that a failure, and they’re more than likely right.

Success

We could definitely do better. We could do a better job training our leaders. We could do a better job of casting the vision for groups. We could offer more options. The list could go on and on.

If we did all of these things better, I think we might be able to get fifty percent of our congregation in groups, and some experts would still call us a failure. Churches like Saddleback and Church of the Highlands have set the standard for small groups, and they’ve set it really high. Over one hundred percent of their people are in a small group. Over one hundred percent doesn’t really sound mathematically possible, but it is because they have people that don’t attend their church attend groups within their church.

Now, I praise God for what Saddleback, Church of the Highlands, and other churches have been able to accomplish within their small group ministries, but I’m not sure if we should be comparing ourselves to them. In a way it’s like comparing every basketball player to Michael Jordan; they can’t live up to that standard, nor should they try.

My fear is that we’ll get so caught up in hitting the numbers that we’ll sacrifice the community. In order to boost our percentage, we’ll call anything a small group. So, worship practice is a small group. The cleaning team is a small group. The people smoking under the pavilion, they’re a small group. And what happens is we get a watered down version of community.

But watered down community never produces growth. So, I want to encourage you to adopt a new measurement for groups, one born out of the second chapter of the book of Acts, one that led to incredible growth.

44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. Acts 2:44-47

I wanted to share with you four keys to community, but after reading this passage a few times and thinking about it, I realized it could be summed up much easier. The people who made up this group loved God, and they loved each other. They were generous because of love. They shared meals because of love. They met in homes together because of love. They fully embraced the greatest commandment that Jesus had set forth.

Maybe we should do the same. Maybe it would be best if we measured our groups’ love for God and one another instead of worrying about how many people are in groups–because if we have a groups ministry that loves God and loves one another, everyone will be drawn to it.

How do you measure the success of your groups ministry? Sunday school ministry? Have you ever been tempted to boost the numbers to make it look better?

Levels of Leadership

Setting Up a Leadership Pipeline

When small groups don’t get off the ground, volunteers begin to quit, and ministries fall apart, it almost always can be traced back to the leader. John Maxwell was right when he said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

Leadership Pipeline

Leadership is so crucial to the success of your church, yet it’s sometimes hard for people to grasp, especially within a rural setting. People who attend small town churches are often fearful of the word “leader” because they believe it elevates certain people over others. When that happens people’s feelings can get hurt. We have to constantly fight this mindset.

Leadership isn’t about being served. It’s about serving others. The higher you rise in leadership, the more people you serve. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” The desire to become a leader should be fueled by a desire to serve others.

In our church we’ve instituted a leadership pipeline. The leadership pipeline is a system used to identify and develop leaders at all different levels within your church. You can find out more of the details here.

Here’s what the levels look like in our church.

Attenders – those who attend our church but aren’t serving

Volunteers – those serving in any ministry of our church

Team Leaders – those who oversee one service of a ministry

Senior Team Leaders – those who oversee an entire ministry

Directors – those who oversee multiple ministries

Staff – those who get paid to oversee everything and everyone else

The language is slightly different among our small group ministry, but the concept is the same.

Non-Attenders – those who have never attended a group

Attender – those who are attending groups

Group Leader – those who lead a group

Group Coach – those who coach other group leaders

Group Director – those who coach the coaches

Each level within the pipeline brings with it a different set of tasks and responsibilities, which creates a natural progression for leaders to move up the pipeline as they prove themselves.

While leadership in a small town church has proved to be a work in progress, the leadership pipeline has been a great help. When we begin looking for a new director for our First Impressions ministry, we start by looking at the senior team leaders within that ministry. When we look for a new group coach, we start by looking at successful group leaders.

I’d love to hear what type of leadership system you’re using in your church as well. Please let us know in the comments section below. Are you using a leadership pipeline? Do you believe it’s been successful? Why or why not?

Multiple Choice Marriage

Staying in Love - Part 4

This November my wife and I began a new small group study based on Andy Stanley’s series Staying in Love. Over the next four weeks we’ll be learning practical lessons that will help strengthen marriages.

We’ve already had a tremendous interest in the group at our church, so I thought it would be a good idea to sum up what we’ve been learning each week and share it with a larger audience. This is part four. You can check out part one, two, and three here.

StayinginLove

Multiple Choice Marriage

Every couple has arguments, what you’ll find is couples that stay in love handle these arguments differently than couples who fall out of love.

You see at the center of most of these arguments is a gap between expectations and behaviors.

A wife may expect her husband to be romantic, but that’s far from his behavior. On the other hand, a husband may expect to get sex every night, but his wife may not cooperate.

There’s a gap between what we expect and how our spouse behaves, and what we fill these gaps with will ultimately determine the longevity of our marriage.

Here’s the good news, you get to make the decision in how you fill those gaps.

You can;

Assume the Worst

By assuming the worst, you get to be right. The more we assume the worst, the more right we get to be. It’s a cycle that feeds itself.

However, when our relationship becomes about winning the argument, we’ll quickly discover that we’re losing our marriage. With each victory, we sacrifice the long-term health of the relationship.

Or

Believe the Best

What studies have found is that couples that stay in love always believe the best about each other. They always rate their spouse higher than their spouse would rate themselves.

By doing this, they experience greater love and intimacy.

We all are constantly making this choice, one way or another. We’re either choosing to assume the worst, or to believe the best.

No one wants to disappoint their spouse, but when you continually assume the worst, your spouse will feel like they’ll never get it right. This pushes them further and further away.

When we assume the worst relationships die, but by believing the best relationships thrive.

That’s why the apostle Paul tells us, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

Does that describe the love in your relationship? If not, make the decision to change that.

Have you ever been guilty of assuming the worst? What can we do to start believing the best?

Feelin’ It

Staying in Love - Part 3

This November my wife and I began a new small group study based on Andy Stanley’s series Staying in Love . Over the course of four weeks we’ll be learning practical lessons that will help strengthen marriages.

We’ve already had a tremendous interest in the group at our church, so I thought it would be a good idea to sum up what we’ve been learning each week and share it with a larger audience. This is part three. You can catch up on part one, and part two here.

StayinginLove

Feelin’ It

Isn’t it interesting that two people can stand at an altar and be so in love that they will commit to love each other “till death do us part” – and then just a few years later be standing in a court room getting a divorce?

How is it that two people who are madly in love can end up falling out of love?

Many times it can be traced back to our heart.

Solomon tells us this, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it”. Proverbs 4:23

The truth is every one of us bring baggage into our relationships, and this baggage has a way of spilling out over time.

Since we have a hard time recognizing our own baggage, we often find ourselves blaming our spouse, when really the issue is us.

We think to ourselves if only he did this, I would be happy. Or if she didn’t do that, I wouldn’t feel so jealous.

We let our spouse’s behavior become the monitor for our emotional satisfaction, and we fail to realize how much the condition of our own hearts determines that satisfaction.

So, how can we fix that? Andy suggests four simple steps to apply before you react.

  1. Before you speak, think about what you’re actually feeling. 
  1. Identify this emotion or reaction by name (anger, embarrassed, jealous, lonely, afraid, etc)
  1. Once you’ve identified it, say the name aloud.
  1. If and when appropriate, tell your partner how you feel.

This exercise may seem silly, but if you apply it, what you begin to realize is that a lot of your “marriage problems” are actually problems in your own hearts.

Once you identify where these negative emotions are actually coming from, it’s a whole lot easier to work through them together.

Why do we have such a hard time identifying the emotional baggage we carry in our lives? How can we get past this?