|It is no secret that I am a big fan
of Andy Stanley
and Northpoint Church in
greater Atlanta. Truth is, I am a fan of his
father's church, which, although it has not enjoyed as rapid
growth as Northpoint, has shown steady and significant growth over the
years. (In addition, they have an amazing worldwide
TV and radio ministry.) I am also
a big fan of Woodstock,
that does things in a completely different way, and a big fan of
Ted Haggard's New Life
Community Church. My daddy used to say, "We don't all do things
alike." One of the smartest things that Rick Warren ever said is, "It
takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people." The
Northpoint way is not the only way, but it is a good way.
It is also a very unusual way. One of the most
striking elements of the Northpoint small group system is they employ
closed groups. How in the world do you reach people, and reach them
rapidly through closed groups? I decided to find out.
What you will find below is an email interview I
recently conducted with Josh Jones. Josh is the small group leader at
Athens Church, a strategic partner church of Northpoint. (He will
explain more about this relationship in the interview.)
Josh Hunt: Imagine I am a visitor to your
church. How would I find out about small groups? How would I be
encouraged to get in a small group? How would I find a small group?
Josh Jones: That actually brings up a bigger issue- our small
groups are not really for visitors. We follow the model of Foyer to
Right now, our Foyer environments are our Sunday morning service and
Kidstuf. These environments are designed for our guests. These are the
places where our regular attenders are regularly encouraged to be
investing in people outside our church and inviting them in. Our hope is
that all visitors come on the arm of a regular attender. We don't try
very hard to attract "walk ins".
Our next goal is to get people to the "Living Room". This is where
people begin to make friends. Right now, this is accomplished by joining
one of our Strategic service teams. This includes Waumba (preschool),
Upstreet (elementary), Host, Production & Environment (set up and tear
down- we are in rented facilities).
Our Final step for people is the "Kitchen". This is where we want people
to feel like family. Our primary environment for this is our Community
They are closed groups of 6-8 individuals or 4-5 couples that meet in
homes for 10-22 months for accountability, belonging and care. They are
"closed" to create deeper intimacy (people cannot join a group after it
has begun unless all members agree) and they have a predetermined ending
date so that they don't fizzle out. It also allows us to multiply a
group into two or three groups every 10-22 months. People primarily find
out about small groups through the bulletin, announcements, web site or
word of mouth. It is the destination we want for everyone at our church,
so we talk about it a lot.
The primary way people join a group is by attending a Community Group
Orientation. At the orientation, they meet people in their same stage of
life and commit to an eight week starter group. At the end of the 8
weeks, if everything is going well, the group signs a covenant together
to meet for 10-22 months. People do not, however, have to attend the
They can simply form a group with people they have built relationships
with in other ways- such as on our strategic service teams.
I know that's way more than you asked for, but I hope it's helpful.
Josh Hunt: You have raised a million questions. Let's start with
this one. What do you mean you don't try to attract "walk ins." I
thought all churches wanted walk ins?
Josh Jones: We obviously don't turn people away and we welcome
people who don't know anyone else there, but our model works best when a
person is brought by a regular attender. Our desire is for our regular
attenders to answer any questions they have and to lead them into a
relationship with God as they process together what they experience in
The way this may make us different from some churches is that we spend
very little money on "marketing". We want word of mouth to be the
primary way that people hear about Athens Church. Our goal is to make
that Sunday morning service such an engaging environment that people are
excited to bring people from outside the church.
Josh Hunt: Let's move then to the "Living Room." As I understand
your comments above, this is (in your case; maybe not so at Northpoint)
a service opportunity. So, people are asked to serve before they are
asked to be in a group?
Josh Jones: For us, that's true. We have found that joining a
service team is a great first step into community for people. So, right
now, that is the only thing that functions as a "living room" for us. We
hope to continue to develop other living room environments. The goal is
to allow people to be relationally connected before they make the bigger
commitment of joining a community group- it's a step to community for
Josh Hunt: What would be some other examples of "Living Room
Environments," say, as practiced at North Point?
Josh Jones: North Point does Fusion (singles gatherings) and
Married Life Live (couples gatherings). These serve as environments
where people begin to make friends. It's the step in between the Worship
service and Community Groups.
For kids and students, North Point combines their "Living Room" and
"Kitchen" environments- Xtreme (middle school), Inside Out (high school),
Upstreet (elementary) and Waumba (preschoolers). These environments have
a large group time and small group time.
Josh Hunt: Well, let's move to the "kitchen." How do I get in a
Josh Jones: There are two ways people can get into a group...
The first is the best. As they develop relationships in our "Foyer" and
"Living Room" environments, they make friends and form groups together.
This is the best option because it ensures that people have connected
relationally. The other way is to attend a Community Group Orientation.
This is the way most people have gotten into groups at Athens Church. At
the orientation, they meet people at their stage of life and commit to
be in a starter group with them for 8 weeks. At the end of that time, if
the group has connected well relationally, they sign a covenant to be
together for 10-22 months. If the group doesnít work during the starter
period, we encourage them to attend the next orientation and join a
different group. We offer orientations every couple of months.
Josh Hunt: Walk me through an actual group evening, from the time
the doorbell rings until the time they say good night.
Josh Jones: We give the leaders a lot of freedom in how they
decide to lead their group time. However, we ask that four elements be
present at every meeting: refreshments, Bible study, fellowship and
prayer. I am personally a small group leader, and our group meets on
Sunday nights from 7:00-9:00 PM. This is what our group time looks like:
8:20-9:00 Bible study
We actually eat dinner together, but that is not a requirement. We
rotate houses, and the host house serves dinner that night. That works
well for us, but each group has the freedom to structure it how they
would like. We end promptly at 9:00, and most of the time people stick
around for 15-30 minutes talking some more. I have attached a covenant
that each group is required to fill out. This is when they decide all of
Josh Hunt: Let's push forward a year or so. How does this group
wind down and reproduce into two groups?
Josh Jones: There are two keys to effective multiplication: the
covenant and communication. The covenant sets the expectation of
multiplication from the very beginning. Everyone agrees on it and
determines the multiplication date together. The second key is that the
leaders must talk about it often- especially in the last few months of
the group. They must keep the vision of it in front of the group because
the natural tendency will be for groups to never want to multiply.
When it is time to multiply, the leader will have spent a lot of time
developing an apprentice who will become the leader of the new group.
The group decides who goes with which group and then each new group will
either attend a Community Group Orientation to add new members or simply
invite others that they already know into the new group. The process, of
course, does not always run without snags, but thatís when a staff
member assists the group in handling any problems they face.
Josh Hunt: Is it fair to say that your best group leaders
joyfully, enthusiastically, personally, sincerely buy into the vision of
growing and dividing, growing and dividing, growing and dividing?
Josh Jones: At this point in our church life, I would say ,"Yes."
The reason I can confidently say that now is because we are a new
church, and we have cast that vision from the very beginning. When they
became a leader, thatís what they committed to. To become a leader, you
must agree with the way we do groups. However, I do see this as a
potential problem in the future. When people build close relationships
with each other, it is difficult to keep the vision of including those
not yet involved in group life. Groups will always want to stay together
longer. However, it is something we are very committed to, and it is
vital to keep both our groups and our church growing. We are not heavy
handed about it, but we will work to help groups stay committed to their
covenant. We work very hard to keep our eyes on those not yet connected-
to God and in community with others.
Josh Hunt: You mentioned that you are a new church. Talk to me
about that for a moment. What is your relationship to Northpoint? How
did you get started? Where is this movement going to be in five years?
Josh Jones: Being a strategic partner means that we have the same
mission, strategy, values & beliefs as Ministries but are a separate
entity. We began as a church in Aug. 04 and had our first service in
Jan. 05. We agreed to play the sermon portion of the service 60% of the
time. The rest of the service is ďliveĒ, and we have a local lead pastor
and staff. Northpoint helped us get started with an initial financial
loan that we will pay back to another strategic partner within 5 years.
We also receive counsel and advice from the staff as we need it. They are
currently working on a plan for the best way to support us as the number
of partners grow. There are currently 4 strategic partners with more on
the way. You can see the current list at their ministry site:
www.northpointministries.org . The strategic partner concept is only
a little over a year old, so we are still seeing how well it works.
There is really no telling where it will be in five years, but the hope
is that there will be strategic partners all over the country.
Josh Hunt: Well, I'd like to wind this down. Anything else you
would like to say to small group leaders and those who coach them?
Josh Jones: I would probably say that the biggest mistake a small
group leader should avoid is the knowledge acquisition trap. A lot of
times, we have fallen for the lie that if we just learn more theology
and more about the Bible that life change will follow. Most of the time,
this is not true. I know in my life, that has not been true. Itís great
when I learn more, but it rarely produces change. That doesn't mean we
shouldnít be increasing in our knowledge of Scripture; Iím just saying
that the focus should not be on that. Most Christians know plenty of
theology and Bible- we just donít apply it. I believe a major role of a
small group leader is to help the group build a community that can be
honest about life and can help each other apply the principles of
Scripture. The focus should be on life change- not knowledge
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