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Well I’ve been off this series for a few weeks due to being pretty busy, sorry about the break. I’ve missed these guys input, but used them in the interval while creating a Community Groups Handbook for our church. So without further ado here’s their fourth principle – Churches Need Simplicity

CHAPTER 10 – Create Steps

Either Stanley or Willits worked for Proctor and Gamble after getting out of college and one of the lessons he learned was the value of having steps in a process to connect customers to their products. They say its no different in a ecclesial environment, steps help connect people eventually into small groups. But there’s a hitch, “One of the challenges to making connection simple in most churches is the fact that small groups are one of many options from which a person can choose.” They simplify the processs at North Point by adopting two practices: 1) clarifying their win; and 2) thinking in steps, not in programs.

As we’ve already discussed clarifying their win involved them asking three questions: what do we want people to become? What do we want people to do? and where do we want them to go? “Clarifying the win not only made the end clearer, it also helped us to think about the steps that would be required to make the connection process work.” Thinking in steps is different than thinking in programs. Programs meet needs, steps take people somewhere. S&W explain their approach to this thinking here;

We believe church programs should not work in competition with each other, but work as steps to move people down a relational path to where we want them to go – into a small group. Like the rooms of a house, the environments of the church function for different purposes to help people connect.

What are their steps of choice, simple – you move people from the foyer where they’re a guest, to the living room where they become a friend, finally to the kitchen where they become family. “Our foryers at North Point are large environments designed to change people’s minds about church…God, as well. Our goal for this environment is for people to want to come back to church….Our worship service is our best-known foyer environment because it tends to be the most utilized entrance by the unchurched. We have also designed foyers for most seasons of life…” “Our living rooms are medium-sized environments designed to change people’s minds about connecting. Our desire is that by the end of an evening, attendees will have made some connections with other people in their area of town or season of life.” S&W use a “taste of community” approach in these environments, give them a taste and leave them wanting more. Lastly the Kitchen Table, “Our kitchen tables are our small-goup environments. Our small groups have been designed to change people’s minds about their priorities – that through the activity of God and the influence of their group, their priorities and God’s priorities will line up; that over time, their lives will change.”

The Kitchen Table environment has two entry points: Starting point a thirteen-week small-group environment that is targeted for seekers, starters, and returners; and Community Groups which comprise 6 couples or 8 singles meeting in homes for 18-24 months at a time.

CHAPTER 11 – Make Them Easy

Ok maybe you’re saying this model will only work with a larger church with dynamic facility, one that spends its budget on missional-entertainment/environment and not mercy for the outside community, one that has very extroverted people, which are probably younger…that’s some of my concerns too, but I think they may not be fair or right so hold onto those concerns and don’t discredit S&W out of turn…to mix metaphor’s the “river card is a killer.”

S&W open this chapter with an illustration taken from their board room where Andy helped the team realize that steps need to be easy if people are going to take them. “For a step to be effective, it needs to be easy, obvious, and strategic.” To flesh the idea of step out they talk about how their couples leader and her team created GroupLink, a two-hour event where people connect with others in their geographic area and stage of life to start a community group, it takes place about four times a year. The whole church aligns around these group links with media, brochures and Andy preaches a sermon on community righ around the time of GroupLink.

Maybe you’ve been wondering what do S&W mean by environment, here they describe their GroupLink environment;

The GroupLink experience begins the moment a person arrives. There is a check-in team waiting to welcome the attendees and provide them with name tages. The attendees then walk into an inviting environment designed for their stage of life. The room has been decorated, music is playing, and generous hors d’oeuvres platters await them.

They play a ten minute video for these GroupLink potentials, click here to see it. Then Group leaders are introduced by name, group location, and the day they can meet. Once the group number is full the leader collects info and creates a date that works for everyone, typically they meet in two weeks from this event. There are really only three ways attendees can connect at Northpoint: 1) through relationships at the living room environment; 2) through relationships at Starting point; or 3) through GroupLink.

You may be asking yourself does it work, do people connect? S&W say 90% of people who attend a GroupLink connect. Maybe you’re saying great, they connect people, but do people really stick around when life-on-life gets real. As a community group pastor I constantly ask myself that question, will people stick it out…next chapter my friend.

CHAPTER 12 – Try Before You Buy

This chapter had me in tears, in “buyer’s remorse” tears. Kidding. S&W start the chapter off with an illustration from the car sales industry, car salesman have smartened up and now let people try the car for a day or so before they buy it – typically it works and they buy it. S&W say the same “buyer’s remorse” syndrome affects people considering community groups, so why not create a try before you buy approach for small group potentials.

Thats exactly what S&W did, its called a starter group and every GroupLink starts out as one, its eight weeks long, 90% of them actually stay together beyond the starter point. Each starter group is supported by having a group leader, a staff member over coaching that group leader, a DVD for the first meeting night which takes them through the philosophy and values of North Point, the starter group leader has a leaders guide for the whole period as well. The leaders guide has four sections to it: 1) advice on facilitating the group; 2) an overview and some pointers for using their student curriculum; 3) weekly objectives for all eight sessions, as well as icebreakers and leader notes focusing on the big idea of the night; and 4) next steps to take the group into its life process beyond the starter weeks.

Seems simple and straightforward doesn’t it…”This is all part of a simple connection strategy. Because connection needs simplicity.”

Afterthoughts

I’ve wondered how Andy Stanley and his team pastor 20,000 people and after reading these three chapters I’m starting to get an impression of how they do it. 90% is great, I wonder how many of their total number attend GroupLink. My guess is that its pretty high. Here’s the thing about being in a small church, its very, very easy to be cynical about community life inside mega-churches. Stanley and his team has overturned a good bit of cynicism in my heart and I hope yours if you’re in a local small church.

One or two concerns I had reading these chapters was the amount of money, time and resources that they spend on being a come structure rather than a go structure. Their approach resonates with a consumerist culture but as we become more and more glocal and post-christian I wonder what will become of a ‘immersion’ approach to welcome and engagement. These concerns aren’t conclusions, they’re concerns…

Good church philosophy writing not only gives you something to consider by way of positively laying out principles, it also makes you wonder about the gray matter in between principles. That’s exactly what S&W did for me as a reader in this chapter. I’m left with a lot of questions, here are just a few;

  • How do S&W move people from the foyer into the living room, I get that it happens but I’m curious how they do it? What do they find most successful?
  • Do they do membership, if so how does it tie into the steps, and if they don’t how do they do church discipline?
  • After people get into community groups what do they do on Sunday morning, do they go to the Foyer environments, if so what does ‘going deeper’ teaching wise look like for them? How does the whole counsel of scripture come through?
  • When starter groups end what does the curriculum in the community look like; is it tied around the Sunday sermon or is it tied to something else like a discipleship approach or something?
  • How do people move from community group members to community group leaders?
  • THIS IS A BIG ONE: where does mercy play into their philosophy, do they see it as a coorparate call and individual call, etc.?
  • What does the inter-staff structure look like, curious how Andy and his team manages it?