Twelve Tips for a Successful Campaign
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Twelve Tips for a Successful Campaign

A step-by-step guide from a campaign superhero

Having lived through 9 campaigns (running point on 5) in my 12 years as Small-Group Pastor here at Saddleback, I have discovered that a strategy is only as good as the foundation and follow-through that surrounds it. As they say, the devil is in the details. That's why our Saddleback Church Campaigns come with full instructions on how to run the campaign from start to finish. The instructions explain what types of teams you need to develop in addition to providing a calendar timeline and training DVDs.

Here's another thing I've learned: a church-wide campaign will be an exponential experience for any church. It can be exponentially positive or negative, depending on how you approach it. So, based on my experiences (and a few battle scars), here are 12 tips to ensure a positive outcome for your church.

1. What's the Compelling Question?

When you run a campaign, you need to know which question the campaign will answer. To give you an example, for our 40 Days of Purpose Campaign the question was, "What on earth am I here for?"

The compelling question gives your people a reason to join a small group and attend the corresponding weekend services. It provides your group leaders with motivation to invite others into their small group. Without a compelling question, the congregation won't understand the central theme or the reason for the campaign.

2. Align Children, Student, and Adult Ministries.

A lot of churches that run a campaign miss the power of alignment by only doing it for the adults. When your children and student ministries memorize the same Scriptures, read about similar themes, do projects together, and listen to the same weekend message, everyone is on the same page. Discussions naturally flow into the home from parent to child and child to parent.

3. Stick to the Principles and Apply Your Own Methodologies.

When aligning your campaigns for children and students, you need to adapt the material to their learning level. So if the adults are memorizing a Scripture, the children may learn part of the same Scripture instead of the whole thing—because that is appropriate for their level.

The same principle needs to be applied to your entire church. Weekend messages need to be adapted to your church's context and culture. Small-group questions can be adapted to your needs. If your campaign includes a church-wide service project (or a project for individual small groups), it should serve your particular church and community. For example, if your church has a strong presence in the homeless community, then stay true to your culture and serve those same people as part of your campaign.

4. Language Matters.

One of the most significant things we learned through recruiting for our Saddleback campaigns is that language matters. Campaign material is delivered through small groups, so it is vital that you have plenty of people ready to "lead" a small group—but "leading" can mean different things to different people.

When we asked for Lay Pastors, that didn't work well because people didn't feel they were pastors. We then changed the term to Shepherd Leaders, which failed because they didn't connect with the term "shepherd." Next we tried Small Group Leader, but nobody wanted to be the leader due to perceived inadequacies or lack of time. Then we asked for H.O.S.T.'s. We told people: "If you have a Heart for people, are willing to Open your home, can serve a Snack and Turn on a DVD player—then you can host a group of people." All of a sudden we had plenty of volunteers!

Interestingly, we never changed the duties of a small-group leader, just the language. It was enough. All of the preconceived notions of what it takes to be a "leader" just fell away. If a Host continues with the group after the campaign, then we enter them into our Small Group Leadership Development Pathway. This pathway then provides them with the relationships and resources to nurture and build their leadership skills.

5. Employ Various Avenues of Learning.

The Campaign Strategy takes a common theme and helps people learn that theme through different learning styles. People learn through listening to the weekend services. People learn through discussing topics in their small groups. People learn through doing hands-on projects. People learn through memorizing Scripture. And people learn through reading as they work through the campaign materials in their small groups and on their own.

6. Once a Year Is Enough.

I am a college football fan. As much as I love the college football season and hate to see it come to an end, there is something about the wait and anticipation of the next season. If college football was off for a month and then back on, it wouldn't be as good from month to month. Players couldn't prepare, and I just wouldn't look forward to the coming of fall like I do now.

It's the same way with campaigns. When you do too many campaigns in a year, two things happen: 1) The volunteers who pulled it off won't be able to manage another campaign so soon, and 2) Your congregation won't experience the anticipation of an upcoming event.

7. Provide a clear start and end date.

At Saddleback, our campaigns last 40 days. This is a short enough commitment that most people are willing to make it, but long enough to instill good habits. When you have a clear start and end date, it gives people an end in sight, which means they are more willing to come along for the ride.

8. Expect High Intensity for Staff, Volunteers, and Members.

The secret of a successful campaign is sustaining high intensity for 40 days and then backing off to allow staff and volunteers to recover. This recovery time also helps group members to process the experience. Give your small groups time to stabilize.

For a campaign to happen successfully, you must clear the calendar for the duration of that campaign. You need to stop programs and events that could be distracting.

Sometimes "good" programs can stop "great" things from happening in a campaign. Also, with a campaign comes the beginning of many new groups, which means that afterwards you will need time to assess where those groups are at. Some will continue and some will stop. But without the margin and infrastructure to check in on these groups, you will start a lot of groups and lose the same amount.

9. Remember to Celebrate!

Oftentimes churches are great at recruiting and getting things finished for a campaign, but terrible at celebrating a job well done. After the campaign, be sure to hold a celebration and express your gratitude for all of the hard work done by staff and volunteers. Take time to remember and celebrate God's work. Share stories of success and gratitude.

When you don't take the time to celebrate, you are increasing the possibility of burnout in your staff and volunteers. In the Bible we read of many instances when God had people stop and remember the miracles He accomplished. Why? Because He knew people would forget. When you celebrate, you etch God's work on your people's heart.

At Saddleback, we often we give out little reminders or mementos, such as key chains, so that when people see them, they will be reminded of how God moved. Help your people remember what God has done and celebrate the campaign they put so much time and energy into achieving.

10. Understand the Delivery System—Small Groups.

At Saddleback we have two delivery systems: weekend services and small groups (which comes from Acts 5:42). It is a two-punch system to help people not just learn, but also apply the Word of God. Our small groups are the delivery system of all the components of the campaign. Group life is not optional at Saddleback. It is vital.

We use a funnel to depict the strategy behind how we apply the five biblical purposes throughout the church:

  • The weekend service establishes the five biblical purposes through the preaching of the Word.
  • The CLASS system explains the five biblical purposes.
  • Small groups give people the opportunity to experience the five biblical purposes (they help you take information and turn it into transformation).
  • The life of an individual (a Purpose Driven Life) expresses the purposes.

For all of this to work, you need to have some kind of infrastructure in place. An infrastructure helps your new groups not go it alone. At Saddleback, we have Community Leaders who oversee new small groups. What they do is simple—check on the new groups regularly and offer encouragement and prayer. The DVD curriculum provides the material, but the Community Leader gives the moral support.

You also need a Leadership Development Pathway in place. Your small-group hosts/leaders need to know where you want them to go. If they continue to lead, what will be their journey and final destination? How will they be trained? Not providing clear direction is like asking someone to come over to your house and only giving them a city, not the address.

Also, give your groups a next step. Before you let a group get through a campaign, have them make a decision on what their next step will be. Will they continue to meet, or will they part ways? Around week four of the six-week campaign, we encourage groups to determine what their next study will be. We give them curriculum suggestions and encourage them to get the new material as soon as possible. Very often, just avoiding "down time" can make the difference in whether a group continues or not.

11. Give People an "Out" After the Campaign Is Finished.

That may sound odd, but chances are good that even those who drop out will eventually be back in a small group. In a campaign, you need to give people permission to stop their group.

Let me be clear: I want every new group to continue, and I want to give them every possible reason to stay together. But I don't want them to feel guilty if their group doesn't continue. Why? Because when they do what you have asked, you need to reward them and thank them, not pour on guilt for not continuing. I have learned when you give people permission to stop meeting at the end of the campaign, they will be there for the next campaign. And during the next campaign, they just might stay with that next group.

12. Budget to Remove Financial Obstacles.

When we run a campaign at Saddleback, we pay for everything. We provide the devotional reading books, memory key tags, prayer guides, small-group DVDs, and study guides to anyone who joins a small group. If people commit to a small group, we give them everything to make a spiritual impact on them—they just need to join. It's a lot of money up front, but it brings huge dividends on the back side.

Invest in your church. It shows your people you not only care about them, but you are also willing to put your money where your heart is.

—Steve Gladen is the Pastor of Small-Group Community at Saddleback Church and founder of the Small Group Network. You can read more from Steve at

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