Barriers to Small Group Growth

I always am on the lookout for teaching points regarding small groups, and here is solid wisdom from Rick Warren:

Did you know that you get a new skeleton every seven years? Your bone marrow is constantly creating new bone, and you’re sloughing off old cells so that your skeleton can grow with your body. For our church to keep growing, our structure also has to change constantly.

The only purpose of restructuring is to prepare a church for growth and to break through barriers. About 95 percent of all the churches in the world stop growing before they get to 300 people because they are structured to be at a size less than 300. It’s not the problem of the pastor or the people; it’s a problem of the structure.

We often ask the wrong question. The wrong question is, “What will help my church grow?” The right question is, “What is keeping my church from growing?” Growth is natural. All living things naturally grow. I don’t have to command my kids to grow; they just do it, if they’re healthy. If our church is healthy, then it is going to automatically grow.

A church becomes healthy by removing the barriers and balancing the purposes. There are 10 common barriers that keep our church from growing. The first six are:

Members won’t bring their friends to church: You can’t grow a church without guests. One of the reasons Christians won’t bring their friends to church is that they’re embarrassed or they think, “This is a church that meets my needs, but it’s not geared for my friend, an unbeliever, to understand it.” You have to create a service that is understandable but not watered-down.

People fear that growth will ruin the fellowship: Many churches say they are a loving church, but what they mean is that they are good at loving each other and not unbelievers. When members love their fellowship so much that they don’t want anyone new, then they’re not going to bring friends. The average member of a church knows 67 people, whether you have 67 people at your church or 6,000. If you only want to have a church of people you know, you’re only going to have about 67 people. The antidote to this barrier is affinity groups. The church must grow larger and smaller at the same time — larger through worship (weekend services) and smaller through fellowship (small groups).

Churches are driven by tradition rather than the purposes of God: Tradition is a good thing — as long as it works. Never confuse the message with the methods. The message must never change, but the methods have to change. If you don’t change methods from generation to generation, you are being unfaithful.

One of the most expensive and difficult things to do is keep a corpse from stinking. If there are programs in our church that died a long time ago; we need to give them a decent burial. Periodically, we should go through everything we’re doing and ask, “Should I reaffirm it, refine it, or do I need to replace it?” The hardest thing to give up is what worked before, but sometimes you have to stop it before it starts declining.

Churches are trying to appeal to everybody: Our church cannot be all things to all people. The moment we choose a style of music, we are going to turn someone off. We need to know whom our church can best reach in your community. Define that group of people, and then go after them.

Churches are program-oriented rather than process-oriented: A lot of churches think the goal is to keep the saints busy, and people are just worn out. Programs and events should not drive the church; they should fulfill the purposes. Where do we want to take our people in the next 10 years? Where do we want them to be different? Set a goal by determining your role — what God has called you to do. Once you know that, then you decide what programs best accomplish that goal.

Churches focus on meetings rather than ministry: When the number one qualifier in our church is attendance, then we are facing this barrier. It’s not all about the weekend; the weekend is simply the funnel by which you start the discipleship process. If Christianity is a life and not a religion, then it should focus on where we live our lives — at home, work, etc., and not at church. When we focus on meetings, we’re building a group of spectators. We don’t need more meetings; we need to meet more needs. You do that by turning every member into a minister.

Connectors Connect on Common Ground

John Maxwell, in his book on Connecting, moves from connecting principles to connecting practices. This is the first rule of communication, the practice above all others that opens the door to connection with others would be to look for common ground. The same is true when resolving conflict with your spouse, teaching a child, closing the deal, selling a product, or communicating with your class. This may sound harsh but it’s true: it is difficult to find common ground with others when the only person you focus on is yourself.

People of different temperaments cause people to think and act differently than ourselves. Maxwell writes about different representational systems based on our five senses. For example, observe several people walking down the beach. People will experience the event differently; one feels the sun on the skin, another sees the water and the vivid colors, another hears the sound of waves lapping and gulls screeching, another smells tanning oil or funnel cakes. If we learn to pinpoint how others experience the world (and strive to experience the same world they do) communication will become more effective.

Barriers to Finding Common Ground: many people are oblivious to others around them, especially to their feelings, thoughts and values.

  1. Assumption – I already know what others know, feel and want: all miscommunication is the result of differing assumptions. Remember that all generalizations are false (including this one); once we place someone neatly in a box, it becomes more difficult to think about that person as being anything different. Assumptions usually come out of our prejudice. We then miss clues that would otherwise find and reach common ground.
  2. Arrogance – I don’t need to know what others know, feel or want: arrogant people seldom meet others on common ground. They don’t make the effort, because they believe they don’t have to. I read that 90 percent of serious controversies arise from misunderstanding, one person not knowing the facts that the other person deems important, failing to see his point of view. Archie Bunker is an example: opinionated, narrow-minded, bigoted, expected everyone to come to him on his own terms. You can’t build a relationship with everybody in the room if you don’t care about anybody in the room.
  3. Indifference – I don’t care to know what others know, feel or want: they say they found a cure for apathy, but no one showed any interest in it. They might not feel superior to others but they also don’t go out of their way to learn about them either. Perhaps because it take a lot of work. Nelson Mandela once said that “If you talk in another man’s language he understands. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” Missionaries call this sharing the gospel in the other person’s heart language. Indifference in really a form of selfishness because we don’t take the time to discover what others know, feel or think.
  4. Control – I don’t want others to know what I know, feel or think: finding common ground is a two-way street. While you strive to discover things about your students, they need to discover things about you. Some leaders believe that by keeping people in the dark they have some measure of control. Maxwell says that secrecy spawns isolation, not success. Knowledge may be power, but leaders need collective power, which only comes through collective knowledge. Any time someone thinks information is being kept from, they feel like outsiders. I recently read about the “subordinate’s Lament” that says, “We the uninformed, working for the inaccessible, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful.”

Cultivating a Common Ground Mind-set: anyone can learn to connect better because connecting is a choice.

  1. Availability – I will choose to spend time with others: common ground must be discovered, and that takes time and requires intentionality.
  2. Listening – I will listen my way to common ground: remember the “hot and cold” child’s game? We must listen to the instructions in order to locate the object. Everyday people are seeking success and purpose but they don’t know where it is. We must pay attention to others. Listening requires giving up our favorite human pastime, involvement in ourselves and our own self-interest. Students are asking, “Why should I listen to you? What’s in it for me if I let you in?”
  3. Questions – I will be interested enough in others to ask questions: the greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions. Larry King once said that he was curious about everything, and his favorite question was, “Why?” There are a couple of tricks that make conversations easier:
    1. FORM: Family, Occupation, Recreation, Message.
    2. FIRE: Family and Friends, Interests, Religious background, Exploratory questions (from CWT).
  4. Thoughtfulness – I will think of others and look for ways to thank them: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much your care. Simple acts of kindness go a long way.
  5. Openness – I will let people into my life: even the word communication comes from the Latin meaning “common.” Connection requires both parties to engage and be open.
  6. Likability – I will care about people: people like people who like them. If they don’t like you, they won’t listen to you or attend your class. Think about your own favorite teachers, I bet they were one that you liked.
  7. Humility – I will think of myself less so I can think of others more: humility is knowing and using your strength for the benefit of others, on behalf of a higher purpose. We must look out for the good of others. A humble leader can bring out the best in people. Arrogance plays up one’s strength to receive praise while humility raises up others so they can be praised. A great way to connect with others is to talk about your own flops, failures and fumbles. Some of the best ideas come out of the worst blunders. If you want to connect, don’t just talk about your successes, but also your failures. Humility comes from admitting your weaknesses, being patient with other’s weaknesses, being open to correction and pointing the spotlight on others.
  8. Adaptability – I will move from my world to theirs: sharing a meal can be a great way to do this; getting out of the comfort zone, sharing favorite food and visiting in someone’s home.

Connectors Go First:

  1. Ask, “Do I feel what you feel?” before asking, “Do you feel what I feel?” We must take people on a journey, and we cannot take them unless we start where they are. Connecting begins with feelings. If you connect on an emotional level it is easier to connect on other levels.
  2. Ask, “Do I see what you see?” before asking, “Do you see what I see?” It is not a matter of casting a vision well enough so others can see it, hoping they will then move forward. This causes us to want others to see things my way. Worse, we will assume that people already see things from our perspective. I read about a older father who looked back to when he was younger, and said he would work harder on seeing things through my children’s eyes. We often miss teaching moments because we want our kids to see things the way we see them.
  3. Ask, “Do I know what you know?” before asking, “Do you know what I know?” After years of dealing with marriage counseling, John Maxwell writes that couples’ greatest desire is to express their point of view from their perspective. They want to get the point across. Only after someone knows what the other person knows can you begin to understand how to connect.
  4. Ask, “Do I know what you want?” before asking, “Do you know what I want?” Attendance at church typically changes in cycles; winter is up, summer is down. Can we keep attendance up by giving people what they want, rather than what we want? This requires that we go beyond head knowledge to the heart. Ask of your people:
    1. What do you dream about?
    2. What do you sing about?
    3. What are you crazy about?

We are not supposed to just transmit massive chunks of information onto people; let’s invest in them.  Communication is a journey.

Summary:
Connecting Practice: Connectors Connect on Common Ground.
Key Concept: Know the reasons you and your students want to communicate and build a bridge between those reasons.

Practical Steps:

  1. You must know your reason, know your other person’s reason and find a way to connect the two.
  2. You build a bridge by asking questions, gaining feedback, asking more questions, telling stories, share emotions, and offer lessons learned.
  3. In a group you can ask, “What brought us together?” or “What goals do we have in common?”
  4. In class: validate their feelings, share that you perhaps feel the same way, tell them what you found that helped you, offer to help them find help in their lives.