5 Ways We’re Prioritizing Small Groups this Year

Over the past five years, the church I serve has gotten consistently worse at small groups. We have a hard time finding leaders, and when we do have leaders, they have a hard time getting people to show up to their group. So, you may be asking yourself, why should I listen to any thing this guy says about groups? I’d be better off reading the blog of someone whose church has over 100% of their congregation in small groups and who doesn’t even take up an offering because their church is so generous. Good luck with that. For everyone else whose church is struggling and who has real problems getting people connected, read on.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you are probably aware of my frustration with groups. There have been many times I’ve been ready to give up on them. If people don’t want to grow in their spiritual walks, then I can’t force them to.

That’s true, but there seems to be something missing in our church when we’re not doing groups well. New relationships aren’t formed, and old relationships aren’t strengthened, which means the family of God isn’t as close as they could be. And because of this, people are less likely to serve, to give, or to even show up.

That’s a problem, and one that needs to be solved. It seems like small groups are the logical solution. So, how can we do it better? Here are a few things we plan on trying.

  1. We’re asking every staff member and leader to lead a group. This seems so obvious, but without accountability it’s easy to let it slip. Yes, our staff and leaders are already very busy but so is everyone else. And if our staff and leaders aren’t making groups a priority in their lives, you can guarantee no one else is either.
  2. We’re allowing leaders to choose the times that work best for them. Semester based small groups are good since you can promote them all at once, but they don’t always work with everyone’s schedule. For example, if you have a child involved in football, then it may be hard for you to lead or attend a group in the fall. You’re busy enough during that season. So, while we’re not completely going away from semester based, we are allowing people to lead groups at times that work best for them.
  3. We’re talking about groups more often. In the past we would talk about groups about a month before each semester began, and then you wouldn’t hear anything else about them until the next semester was getting ready to kick off. This year we plan on finding some new and creative ways to talk about groups throughout the year.
  4. We’re offering free childcare on certain nights. One of the biggest concerns for most group leaders is, what do I do with the kids? With two young kids of my own, I can totally relate. To help alleviate these concerns, we’ll be offering free childcare on Wednesday nights at our church. This will cost the church some money, but I believe it will be worth it in the long run.
  5. We’re evaluating ourselves monthly. In years past, we may have talked about some of our struggles to find group leaders or get people to attend, but it was just a few times a year and we never did anything about it. This year we’re looking at our group numbers every month, and if we don’t like what we see, we’re taking action.

Do you have the secret formula for making groups work in small town rural settings? Or are you just as frustrated as me? I’d love to know. Share your thoughts in the comments below. And while you’re here, don’t forget to subscribe to learn more about church growth, leadership, and the frustrations that come along with it.

4 Ways to Make the Most of Summer

In the famous words of Olaf, “Winter’s a good time to stay in and cuddle, but put me in summer and I’ll be a – happy pastor!” I know spring is awesome because you have Easter and Mother’s Day. Fall is nice because the kids go back to school which means parents go back to church. During the winter, you have Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s Resolutions. But for me, personally, I love the summer.

If you’ve been pastoring very long, you know that ministry really never slows down, but summer seems to be the least crazy of the seasons. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to work as hard during the summer; it just means your work may look a little different than normal.

In order to maximize your summer and set yourself up to grow this fall, I would encourage you to do these 4 things.

  1. Continue to encourage your congregation to invite. Yes, your weekend attendance will more than likely be less this summer than it was this spring. People are going to take vacations and enjoy the weather. That doesn’t mean evangelism should take a vacation also. Quite the opposite. You need to continue encouraging people to invite. Families could be visiting from out of town, new people could be moving into the area, and most people have more free time during the summer than any other time of the year. So, invite them to church.
  2. Don’t be afraid to do an attractive sermon series. If you’re not already doing sermon series, you need to be. Here are four reasons why they work. Many times our tendency during the summer is to avoid attractive series because we believe our attendance is going to be down. Life.Church has proven that’s not necessarily the case. Each year they do their “At the Movies” series during the summer, and each year it’s their most attended series.
  3. Get plenty of rest. It’s hard to rest as a pastor, but it’s absolutely necessary if you’re in this for the long haul. There are around twelve Sundays between Mother’s Day and mid-August. I personally believe you should take off at least four of them. Take a couple to spend with family, and take a couple to spend visiting and learning from other churches. A friend of mine said taking a sabbatical saved his ministry. Don’t underestimate the importance of rest.
  4. Don’t cancel your small groups. I really have no business giving pastors advice on small groups because my church isn’t very good at them. We struggle to get leaders, and we struggle to get people to attend. However, some of our best small groups have happened during the summer. The days are longer, which means people have more time to get things done and more time to attend a group. One of the most popular groups getting ready to start is an ING group. They’re going to be grillING, hikING, and kayakING. Summer fun groups allow relationships to form, which hopefully will carry over to groups in the fall and spring.

I hope these four thoughts help you, and I’d love to hear your ideas. What’s worked well for you to maximize summer? Leave a comment and let us know. Also, if you love tips on leadership and church growth, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog.

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.