||I have long been a fan of
Ted Haggard and
his free market approach to small groups. I was thrilled
that Ted agreed to answer a few of my questions about his
Ted is the pastor of New Life Church
in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He also serves on the Board
of the National Association of Evangelicals as President as
well as on the Boards of Colorado Springs Association of
Evangelicals, and the Center For Christian-Jewish Dialogue. He is
the President of The World Prayer Center and The World
Prayer Team. Haggard is Senior Editorial Advisor for
Ministries Today, a monthly magazine directed to pastors and
Josh Hunt: Let's start with the title of your
book: Dog Training, Fly Fishing and Sharing Christ. That is unusual.
What does the title mean? What do dog training and fly fishing
have to do with sharing Christ?
Ted Haggard: I believe God can use everything in our lives, except our sin,
to minister positively to others. People connect with one another in
various ways. Some connect because of common experience, interest,
stage of life, or task. People who are interested in training their
dogs or going fly fishing will connect with one another while doing
these things. My advice for every local church: utilize the
interests of the people in your congregation to build your small
groups. Certainly, some will connect around a Bible study, a book
study, or a study of the pastor's sermons, but these groups will be
unnecessarily limited. Certainly use these, but add to them.
People's lives are so diverse and dynamic, we need to group people
every way we can so we can build relationships with them. Once
relationships are built, we can lead them, and when we can lead
them, our opportunity to bring them to Christ is greatly increased.
Josh Hunt: So, let's say I show up at a fly fishing meeting. Well, I
guess it wouldn't be a meeting. I guess I would go fly fishing with
a bunch of guys. What happens next? I work with a lot of Southern
Baptists and they are going to wonder, "How are you going to get the
WORD to them, Brother Ted?"
Ted Haggard: Research shows that 70% of those we bring to church who stay
and become part of the church are a friend or a relative.
Relationships come first, then the Word. The assumption is that you
are using things like Fly Fishing, etc. to attract people who don't
necessarily want the Word, but are willing to come to another type
of activity. Then, once relationships are built, life will provide
an opportunity to get the Word into them. Also, for many, once
relationships are built, they want to do a specific Bible study,
etc. after they have some friends who are interested in spiritual
Josh Hunt: So, do you encourage your people to be in a weekly Bible study
group of some kind?
Ted Haggard: Church is a weekly Bible study, and the vast majority of our
people daily read their Bibles. Because of the way life works, in
some stages people want to be in a small group Bible study, and
other times they want to be with other soccer moms, businesspeople,
etc. Small group systems within a church need to be as flexible as
the lives of the people in the church. It's relationships that hold
people accountable and provide support in time of need, not
necessarily a small group Bible study.
Josh Hunt: Do you see this approach modeled in Jesus' ministry?
Ted Haggard: No doubt, the Bible is not written as a study, but as the
stories of people who knew God and their relationships discipled
others. The same is true today. We disciple with our lives first and
our words second. But I don't want to minimize the importance of
Bible study. We all need the Word, but we also need living Words.
Thus, the role of relationships between people. We donít find Jesus
sitting down with his disciples and saying, ďLetís do a Bible study
Josh Hunt: A key theme in the book is "Free Market" groups. Tell me your
story. How did you come to discover and embrace the concept of free
market groups? What do you mean by the term?
Ted Haggard: Free Markets [from an economic viewpoint] provide the right
amount of the goods and services people need at the price and
quality they desire. I wanted a system that would self-regulate and
would capitalize on the creativity and innovation of the people
within the church rather than just the leadership of the church. It
struck me that most small group systems actually use the failed
system of central command of the old Soviet Union, North Korea and
Cuba. Because of the central command system, there were excesses in
some things, shortages in others, and a constant message from the
central command for people to believe in and participate in the
program that was "so" good for them. And of course, the central
command systems do provide security for those who have suffered or
are in the midst of conflict, but as a long term practice, they make
Free Markets, on the other hand, use the government to provide a
framework for the people themselves to be creative and innovative
and to determine the needs and wants within the community, and
supply and demand insure that there is the right amount of each
product and service, at the right price. As a result, we have 1,300
small groups that I don't have to coerce people to attend, and we
naturally have the right number of Bible Study groups, sermon cells,
women's and men's groups, youth groups, and Christian book study
groups. It's incredible! We have the right number of task groups,
The wonderful thing about Free Market Small Groups is that when
people in the church have a suggestion, my default answer is yes and
there is a framework for them to begin the ministry they have
suggested. It's easy and produces. And, as in free market systems,
if there is no demand, the small group goes away and the leader has
to find a ministry that has demand. As a result, the quality of our
small groups is self-policing. It's wonderful! They have to get
better on their own because there is no centralized system
artificially propping up attendance by obedient surfs. This system
requires that the central command believes that people know what
they need, which I do. I trust people more than I trust a central
command system, rather it be in a civil government or a church. As a
result, this system works great with me.
Oh, about people being happy. We have people from the churches all
around participating in our small group system. More people attend
small groups each week than attend our church on weekends. We grow
every week from people who have developed relationships with New
Lifers through our small groups. So, just as central command systems
make people unhappy, free market systems make people happy. How can
you tell which governments are good or bad? One word: immigration.
Everywhere in the world where a central command small group system
is in operation near a free market small group system, immigration
tells which is most effective. Free markets win every time.
Josh Hunt: I love it! I agree with you, but I hear a host of people
saying, "But how do you control it?"
Ted Haggard: This is the same questions governments have asked for six
thousand years. If you put control on a 1 to 10 scale, a 1 would be
no control, or chaos and a 10 would be total control from the
central command. Most churches do operate with a stiff control
system, which is incredible to me. I think they do it out of concern
to control the integrity of teaching. But we know from the lessons
of the 20th century that if you control thought too tightly, you end
up with rebellion, lack of ownership and innovation, and unhappy
people. When people are too controlled, they will do anything they
can to get some additional freedom.
As a result, I recommend enough control to ensure theological
conformity to the teaching of the church, and a few other basic
items, but that's about it. It's maybe a 4 or 5. As a result, people
must exercise personal responsibility, but they have the opportunity
to be innovative and creative, while at the same time they own what
they are doing. I think fundamentally I would ask: why is control a
virtue? We have 1,300 small groups right now. In all of our years,
we've not had one group split off and hurt the church or try to be
rebellious against the church. I think people know that we offer
freedom and as a result they want to be honorable.
Now don't get me wrong. We do have section leaders that oversee each
group, and the leaders of each group are trained in their
responsibility as an agent of the church. So we do have oversight
and control, we just don't exercise it unless we absolutely have to.
Josh Hunt: Not one group in all these years. That is amazing. That is
pretty much how I ran a Sunday School, with similar results. I found
people were not near as interested in teaching heresy as I was
taught to believe. Still, some safe-guards are warranted. You
mentioned training. Let's talk about that. If I were a group leader
at your church, what training would you have for me? Is it required?
You do some conferences available to the public, don't you? You
might mention where people could get more information on that
Ted Haggard: The Book, Dog Training, Fly Fishing and Sharing Christ in the
21st Century talks about this philosophy. It's a book that I wrote a
few years ago that helps people understand. We ask all potential
small group leaders to read the book. In addition, they are all
required to attend a Sunday afternoon training meeting where we
review legal obligations, chain-of-command, the creed of the church
that they must all agree to teach if a pertinent question arises,
and then some practical issues about leadership: prayer, commitment,
godly living, etc. At the end of that meeting, they meet their
section leader who begins the personal assistance and oversight they
need to be successful. From then on, if their section leader
approves, they are ready to begin the next semester. From time to
time we do conferences on this at New Life. Every summer we have a
life-giving leadership conference that includes these principles.
Josh Hunt: How big should a small group be?
Ted Haggard: The term small group is a misnomer. In a free market system,
there is no ceiling put on size. The number in each group is left up
to the ability of the leader and the interests of the people. In the
free market system, people vote with their feet. Multiplication
happens naturally and only when the size of the ministry warrants it.
Josh Hunt: How do leaders get started?
Ted Haggard: The entry point for someone who wants to be a small group
leader is a Sunday afternoon orientation event. I explain the role
of the small group leader and the philosophy of free market groups.
We conclude the orientation by having each potential small group
leader fill out an application with references. They take a
personality test and a spiritual gift inventory. They participate in
a short interview with a zone leader. We call references, as well as
conduct a Colorado State Background check. If everything checks out,
they become a small group leader.
Josh Hunt: How do you train small group leaders?
Ted Haggard: Leadership training events are offered the first and third
Sunday evening of each month during the semester. In these meetings
there is a message from a pastor, fellowship time, and a time for
section huddles where group leaders can voice concerns about their
Josh Hunt: How is the overall system organized?
Ted Haggard: We have five levels of leadership: Small group leader, Section
leader, Zone leader, District leader, and District Pastor. We have
separated Colorado Springs into three districts and have one pastor
on staff over each district. Everyone else is a volunteer. Section
leaders visit each small group one time each semester and keep in
contact with them regularly.
Josh Hunt: How do people in the church plug in?
Ted Haggard: We have a big rally the first week of each semester where we
really promote groups and encourage everyone to plug in.
Josh Hunt: Is each group encouraged to be balanced and do all of the
functions of the church?
Ted Haggard: No. Discipleship groups that study Experiencing God are better
at discipleship. Volleyball groups are better at evangelism. Every
group doesnít have to do everything.
Josh Hunt: How did you transition your church into the free market
Ted Haggard: Rather than eliminate any of our existing programs, we decided
to slowly birth the new beside the old. This was not threatening to
anyone because we werenít changing anything that was already in
place. We didnít impose the new system on the church; we offered it.
Josh Hunt: What has been the tangible, measurable result of adopting the
free market system?
Ted Haggard: Before adopting the free market approach our back door was
losing about 20%. After one year of this model, our back door losses
shrunk to .7%
Josh Hunt: Do you think this free market system is for everyone?
Ted Haggard: No. Let me speak in DISC terms. If you are a high C this wonít
work for you. I am an ID and it works great for me.
Josh Hunt: I am about to wind down here. Just a couple of more questions.
You rub shoulders with a lot of pastors. What are some of the most
common mistakes you see pastors make regarding their small group
Ted Haggard: They work too hard at it. They over-plan, over-control,
over-manage. Anytime we govern anything, we have to decide the
competency level of those who are going to participate and whether
or not we need to control all or which aspects of their work. I lean
toward a high level of trust with a great deal of liberty. That's
why each pastor needs to evaluate the level of responsibility his
own church members possess and then decide how much he should
control the small group ministry. We've had great success with
Josh Hunt: Any other words of wisdom to small group leaders and those who
Ted Haggard: With freedom comes responsibility. Do a good job and God will
give more freedom. If people do a bad job, then the church
government will have to tighten up and provide more structure. If
every small group leader will build the body and think of the
overall work of God through their church, they will be a great
leader. If they think only of their own ministry, then they will be
of no more good than a hand without an arm attached to the body. By
using wisdom their ministries will be success and their churches