January 27, 2009
Two tough questions for churches using small-group campaigns
I continue to be amazed at how many churches are using "campaigns" to launch new small groups in their churches. I'm not talking about political campaigns, which are so prominent in the news right now. I'm talking about Campaigns like "40 Days of Purpose," the "50 Day Spiritual Adventure," and the like.
The idea behind a Campaign is to create church-wide unity, enthusiasm, and momentum. This is done through prayer, teaching, evangelism, special events, and personal devotions that are all aligned with the campaign themes. Many new small groups have been successfully launched using these Campaigns as a way to get unconnected people into new or existing small groups.
Once the campaign period ends, however, there is normally a slow fade-out of the energy that was created. And once the energy fades, churches are faced with several new questions. How do we maintain support for new groups? How do we keep training new leaders?
In other words, churches must wrestle with that dreaded question: What do we do now?
In one way, this is a good thing, because it's difficult to sustain the intensity that exists during a campaign period. So, slowing down may help existing groups and leaders develop a sustainable spiritual pace.
However, as I interacted with folks at the recent Willow Creek Small Groups Conference, I kept hearing about an interesting phenomenon: in the weeks and months after the campaign, far fewer new leaders and groups are developing, and fewer unconnected people are getting connected than during the campaign period. This reduction is natural, of course, and so the natural response is often: "We need to do another campaign."
And many churches do just that. Most don't do the same campaign over and over; instead, churches choose another campaign or develop their own campaigns based around a theme or teaching series. I have talked to some churches that are now doing campaigns three times per year to match their ministry seasons.
And yet, almost all of them say the same thing: "The more we do campaigns, the less effective they become." It's like taking a prescription drug with a half-life. The first time you take it, you receive the maximum healing benefit. But the next time you take it, the benefit is good, but far less than the first time you took it. The third time is even less beneficial, and so on.
I think that's why so many church leaders I have talked to are desperately looking for something "new" that will put the energy back into their system. Simply put, their system has become dependent on campaign strategies as the method for starting new groups and assimilating members. (The phrase "dependent on" can be changed to "addicted to" without much fuss.)
So what's the deal? The problem is not with the campaigns themselves. They are only a tool, like a group agenda or study guide. Rather, what makes the campaign momentum sustainable is the relationship-intensive process of building discipleship systems and values in your church that continually foster leader development and new groups. In other words, your church needs to have a sustainable way to start and support new groups that is separate from campaigns, but that can complemented by campaigns.
So here's my takeaway. Before doing your next campaign, take a serious look at the discipleship systems and values that are in place in your church prior to launching the campaign. Then ask yourself another tough question: Are these values and systems sustainable and reproducible over time?