UUA Growth Consultation: Organic Turbo Groups

On Thom Belote’s post about the recent UUA Growth Consultation he notes that the assembled group was tasked with developing growth strategies for our association that meet the following criteria:

We were charged with imagining initiatives that:

  1. Are congregationally based: The approach cannot be “top down” but rather must depend on congregations working together collaboratively to grow.
  2. Have a low cost: Even if the money were there, growing Unitarian Universalism is not a problem that can be solved by throwing money at it. Money can be raised for specific initiatives, but we were instructed to develop plans with a modest cost.
  3. Produce results quickly: There was prevailing sense of urgency (in John Kotter’s sense of the word) and an understanding that action needed to come quickly.
  4. Focus on the attraction and retention of members in our congregations.

I would offer the following strategy.   Help our congregations launch what I call “Organic Turbo Groups” in conjunction with their regular small group ministry and covenant group programs.

One reason small group ministry hasn’t produced the growth many dreamed of is the mistake of only having one kind of group.   This fails to take into account that only a certain percentage of people have what we might call the “gift of evangelism” — the ability to be  passionate about our faith,  have contagious enthusiasm, not come across as too pushy, and so on.  I read somewhere that in other denominations church leaders expect on 10% of people to have that gift.

Here’s my Organic Turbo Group model, its what I did in Providence, RI which led one group to grow and divide into three in 18 months.

  1. identify people with the “the gift of evangelism”
  2. train them in small group ministry if they aren’t already
  3. explain that just as many plants have a “growth tip” where all the rapid growth happens, you want them to lead groups that will be the growth tip of the congregation.
  4. have them participate in the regular small group ministry in the same way as all other groups and leaders EXCEPT that their group is launched with two growth group leaders/facilitators who have a goal of growing the group into two groups from day one.
  5. let all participants placed in this “newcomer oriented group” that the goal is to continually welcome people and that as a result the group will grow and grow and at point X we’ll meet in two groups, one led by person A, the other by B. As long as you are explicit and excited people are happy to have with group growth, its the surprise and uncertainty that backfires.

Obviously, you need to have the right people.  You need to have a solid small group ministry program.  All this is attainable.  And adding a “growth tip” to your congregation is too.  In fact if you don’t, you end up with hard wood…

Another way to think about Organic Turbo Groups is to go back to your cell biology.  When a cell is dividing two structures (centrioles) in the cell move to the poles of the cell, send out spindle fibers/connections to the various chromosomes, pull the chromosomes to the two ends of the cell, and once they are gathered in two small groups of chromosomes within the larger cell,  a wall is formed down the middle.

That’s what we do with Organic Turbo Groups.  Two leaders start out with the group.  Each intentionally builds relationships with their half the group –  you identify who will be in each of the sister groups after division from the start.  That leads people to form a “we’re really two groups” mentality and they help accelerate the division.   Having leadership at two poles and set relationships formed organically moves the group toward being two groups.  When you get to the point where you’re large enough to divide (adding people as you go, inviting friends, etc…) then you split.


A UUA wide effort to beef up our small group ministries and launch oriented organic turbo groups is

  1. Congregationally based. We support an existing congregationally based (and loved) ministry  resulting in greater health and growth.
  2. Have a low cost: With UUA support it would be very affordable to accomplish.  I’ve been talking about this since 2003 but we haven’t been ready.
  3. Produce results quickly: Results are immediate – you can see growth within a single church year.  The group that I led and grew into multiple groups was at least 50% newcomers.
  4. Focus on the attraction and retention of members in our congregations. Yup. That’s what its all about…

Obviously there are details not outlined here. How to find the right people, uphold the vision, train them, etc…  Want more info? Let’s talk.

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