Discover the truths behind the fantastic numbers

Years ago, I received a Pentecostal denomination's newspaper with a front page headline that read, "10,000 decisions made at this year's Camp Meeting!" When I read the article below it, I learned that most made a decision to read their Bible each day, increase their prayer time by ten minutes, share the Gospel weekly, or stop smoking or drinking alcohol. Actual conversions? just 67 souls. Was the headline true? Yes. But what the headline left out led me to believe revival broke out when it did not. If I had only read the headline, I would have made a very inaccurate assumption.

"We've got 120% of our weekend attendance in our small groups!"
From sea to shining sea, I'm hearing reports made by lead and staff pastors of large and mega churches testifying that they have far more people in small groups than their Sunday services. I don't doubt the accuracy of their report. It's just wrong for these pastors to assume the extra 20% are comprised of lost and unchurched persons and then share this misleading information like a Pentecostal Camp Meeting headline.

I know more than one pastor who ministers in the geographic shadow of a big church. Each year, they lose members they've reached for Christ to the big church. Their small group campaigns, facilities, and children's programs are quite alluring. Plus, the pastor of the big church is famous or at the very least, well known. Who wouldn't want to ditch the once-cool water slide in a guy's back yard for Disney World if you had the opportunity?

Are there unsaved and unchurched people in that number? You bet! And that's a great thing. But if a big church creates a vortex with its small group campaigns that inadvertently sucks in members from other churches, they should re-train their small group members (and leaders) to ask about church involvement before they invite.

[Case in point: Did you know that there was a sizable spike in church closures in the Metro Houston area the same year that Joel Osteen moved Lakewood's campus from a ratty corner of the county to a downtown arena? Coincidence? I think not!]

"We just launched 200 new groups!"
Here's another figure I'm hearing from the big boys doing small groups around the country. Did they really add 200 groups last quarter? Absolutely! But why aren't they telling us about how many groups closed the previous quarter and more importantly, why those groups closed? Could it be that operating a vacuum and a DVD player isn't the only qualifications required for healthy small group leadership?

For some churches, opening and closing groups regularly is simply an automated part of their programmic process. There's nothing sacred about their near-instant, watered-down version of biblical community. It's just a mechanism for church growth and visitor retention.

Do your own research or simply ignore the hype
Before you allow yourself to be impressed with what you read or hear about a mega church's small group ministry, ask the hard questions and ask those questions to non-staff members to get a better read on the church's small group ministry's overall health and it's source of growth. If at all possible, I take the time to visit a couple of groups, interview a range of small group leaders and coaches, and learn about the church's small group culture from the inside. Then, I form my own educated opinions about the church's health and what's going on in their small group ministry.

If you don't have time or the energy to do this kind of on-site research, dismiss the fantastic numbers you hear about. You've not been supplied with enough information to validate it or take it at face value.

If you were to do the research, you might just find that they're not doing any better than you are doing in a much smaller church . . . and you might even be doing better if your groups are reaching lost people for Christ and discipling them instead of inviting them over to watch a DVD!

If this blog entry was a breath of fresh air for you, there's a lot more where that came from!


Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3 said...

Some good cautionary info here Randall. At the same time, what Saddleback (and others) know is that the primary reason they have more in groups than they do on the weekend is that their weekly average worship attendance reflects the fact that their members/attendees don't come every week. Instead, most American church-goers attend 1 or 2 weeks out of 4. is possible for Saddleback (and others) to have 120% of their weekend adult worship attendance in groups without adding anyone from outside.

Make sense?


Randall Neighbour said...

That certainly does make sense! Thank you for adding this into the mix. It creates yet another blog topic to explore....

Why do American Christians only attend corporate worship services 1-2 weeks out of a month?

Because they're opt-in consumers and the church has pandered to their consumerism far too long.

Randall Neighbour said...

Additional thought on this old blog post...

Another reason many churches have more people in groups than congregational services is that they are divorced with kids. They play hooky from church when their ex has the kids for the weekend.