Grab, Gather, Grow: Multiply Community Groups in Your Church

Grab, Gather, Grow: Multiply Community Groups in Your Church

by Jennifer Cowart, Jim Cowart


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Jim and Jen Cowart, authors of Start This, Stop That, offer a fresh strategy for developing community groups for your whole church and beyond. Harvest Church (, a young United Methodist congregation twenty miles southwest of Macon, met for seven years (on Sundays) on the move in a rented theatre. They learned about adaptive systems, digital tools, and flexible overhead. Since building a multipurpose facility on 43 acres near Warner Robins, Georgia in 2007, Harvest Church applied what they learned about mobility and sustained rapid growth to 2700 in worship attendance, with seven weekend services. They dispensed with a typical education wing (at significant cost savings) and classrooms in favor of four multipurpose rooms. They adapted a community groups strategy, which meets primarily in homes. They have expanded from 72 community groups to more than 300 in one year.

In this leadership book, Jen and Jim offer a five-part method for transforming a congregation through launching community groups. Community groups become a multiplication strategy because they nurture an urgent expectation outside the congregation to share the good news with persons not yet professing faith, while creating a well defined path for growth in discipleship. The book will include the following themes:

  • Group Explosion – New Strategy for 100% plus group participation
  • Overcoming Obstacles – Structuring for Maximum Growth vs Control – Crowd to Core Group Growth
  • The Power of the Pulpit – This system is driven from the stage
  • Living the 5 through Group Life – How the CG lives into Fellowship, Discipleship, Ministry, Evangelism, and Worship
  • Creating Infrastructure for Facilitators

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501825057
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 06/13/2016
Series: Living the Five Series
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Jennifer Cowart is Executive and Teaching pastor of Harvest Church. With degrees in Christian education, counseling, and business, she has been integral to the development of the Emerging and Discipleship Ministries at Harvest. Jen is a gifted Bible teacher and speaker and the author of three women’s Bible studies, Pursued (Spring 2021), Fierce, and Messy People as well as several studies co-authored with her husband, Jim, including The One and Living the Five. She and Jim love doing life with their kids, Aly, Josh, and Andrew.

Jim Cowart is the lead and founding pastor of Harvest Church in middle Georgia, a congregation that he and his wife, Jennifer, began in 2001 and that has twice been named among the nation’s fastest-growing congregations. Jim has authored and coauthored numerous books including Leading from Horseback, Grab Gather Grow, and Start This, Stop That. Whenever life allows, Jim escapes to enjoy the outdoors on horseback, hunting, and traveling with his family.

Read an Excerpt

Grab, Gather, Grow

Multiply Community Groups in your Church

By Jim Cowart, Jennifer Cowart

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2016 Jim and Jennifer Cowart
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5018-2505-7


The Role of Leadership

Now, the fact that you have this material and are reading it tells us something very important about you. You are a leader. You have the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of others. And it's our guess that you want to be as faithful as you can be with that privilege and responsibility. We believe the G3 strategy of assimilation and study will help you to do that.

Effective leaders are constantly innovating. They are always looking for the most effective ways to accomplish their goals.

The Uber Analogy by Carey Niewhouf

For instance, let's take a look at the amazing rise of Uber, a ride-hail company similar to a taxi service but that works off an app. This company, originating out of San Francisco, took over a major portion of the market share of cab revenue before most of the population even knew what it was about. Uber has disrupted — with a good bit of controversy — the taxi industry, which has operated basically in the same fashion for almost one hundred years. How does that happen, and what can the church learn from it?

Carey Niewhouf cites seven key learnings for the church from the lesson of Uber.


In an age where everyone used taxis, having a clean cab, or a slightly less expensive cab, or a larger fleet of cabs that provided quick service was a competitive advantage. Not so when an industry gets disrupted. Uber uses ordinary people's cars and allows users to rate drivers for their friendliness and cooperation. And they offer [a] price that's meaningfully below a typical cab ride. In the age of Uber, you can have the best taxi cab in town and still be out of business.

What can church leaders learn from this? Polishing a current model of ministry to make it better often comes at the expense of true innovation.


Uber innovated in three primary areas that the taxi industry never did: they lowered the price, enlisted anyone who wanted to drive as a driver and gave consumers the ability to instantly call a car via their phones.

Are there problems with Uber? Sure ... many think Uber needs some regulation. But that's not the point. The point is they already won real market share before most people even knew what was happening. Uber is a great example of how innovation changes things rapidly. Cities and the taxi industry are catching up with Uber long after the love affair between many consumers and Uber began. This is a note to denominations and even churches with large bureaucracies.

Innovation doesn't ask for approval. It just happens — much to the annoyance of existing power structures, which tend to be about preserving what has been.


It's rather surprising to see how angry and opposed taxi cab owners have become in their opposition to Uber.

Their opposition has even spilled to violence on the streets. This is nothing new. The Luddites famously fought the invention of motorized textile looms, smashing and burning the new technology. They lost.

Fighting change doesn't stop change. The best leaders see change and adapt to it, never compromising the mission but reinventing the methods (which is exactly what Uber is doing). Complaining about change doesn't change anything either.


Taxi cabs have been a method of temporary transportation for a century. But the mission behind the taxi industry is transportation. Uber never mistook the method for the mission. It appears that the taxi industry has done just that. We all get wedded to our methods ... The church is seriously in danger of confusing method with mission.

The cab industry could have become innovative and pioneered Uber-like service and innovation. But it didn't. When someone came along with a more popular method, they grew defensive. Now it looks like the cab industry is far more wedded to their method than they are to their mission.

Know any churches like that?


Having the best cab fleet of the 21[st] century may not matter as much as it did 5 years ago. Your past success is no guarantee of your future success. Not in the face of innovation and disruption. The best way to ensure future success is to keep experimenting and keep innovating.

When was the last time your church innovated?


Very little has changed in the cab industry in the last few decades. Sure, payments have become mobile and now there are TVs in some cabs (but again, TV is hardly a new invention). Uber was only an idea as recently as 2009. It launched its first service in 2010. But as young as Uber is, it has introduced black car services, car-pooling, transit and is experimenting with fresh food delivery, package delivery and so much more.

That's because an innovative culture spawns more innovation.

Meanwhile, as outlined above, the taxi industry's main response is not innovation, but a demand that Uber go away. Uber isn't going away any time soon. And even if Uber disappears, innovation won't.

Church leaders, take note. Innovation spawns more innovation. Defensiveness spawns death. So start innovating.


The church should be the least self-interested organization in the world. When we behave this way, the mission will grow.

If you watch the taxi industry's response to Uber, you can't help but conclude that the stance they've taken seems self-interested. I realize these are people who need jobs and money to feed their families, but their arguments come across as self-motivated.

Ever notice that selfishness and defensiveness are only attractive to the person being selfish and defensive?

Through lower prices, friendly service and convenience, Uber's winning the PR war because it feels like it's on the consumer's side.

Uber has problems for sure (its drivers have already gone on strike), but the difference between the vibe Uber emits and the vibe the cab industry emits is significant.

Self-interest will always lose to the public interest.

Let's bring this analogy to the G3 system. This is a new strategy. It requires innovation. The mission is timeless, but the methods are new. So as we go through this material and you come to a moment during which you think, This just won't work in our setting or We won't be able to get people to buy into this, remember the lesson from Uber. Don't be the angry taxicab driver!

In the church, we need great, innovative leaders. We yearn for leaders who not only have vision but also can share that vision in a clear and compelling way that motivates people to action. The people of God are hungry for leaders who will stand up boldly and lead them. They need pastors and leaders who will equip them so they can take on their roles in effective and fulfilling ways.

In a letter circulated to the early churches, Jesus becomes the source who authorizes the primary responsibility of those in leadership, "He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God's people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ" (Eph 4:11-12 CEB).

The primary responsibility of the pastor is to lead! However, all too often pastors spend the majority of their time doing the hired-holy-stuff, such as visiting the sick, counseling the troubled, and attending lots of meetings. These are important tasks, but they are tasks that laity could do effectively. If the pastor and staff are consumed with these tasks, it leaves very little energy for leadership.

The biblical model looks like this: Pastors cast vision and then train and equip believers. In other words, the pastor and staff are administrators and leaders. The laity do the ministry. G3 helps facilitate this process.

However, even strong leaders find that as they try to innovate, they encounter challenges. We understand because we too have experienced many obstacles, including opposition, minimal funding, and a lack of leadership.

No matter the size of your church, your location, or your demographics, this G3 process can work for you. Yet there may be obstacles to overcome. We have experienced them also. Will you be a leader who overcomes challenges?

Are you a "so" person or a "but" person? All leaders come against obstacles. Here are just a few:

We'd like to grow, but ...

I'd be glad to serve, but ...

That may work there, but ...

We could try it, but ...

Every church is full of big buts (pun intended). As a leader, you should guide the conversation from "but" to "so":

We'd like to grow, so we have to try some new ways of reaching the community.

I need some people to serve, so I'm going to have lunch with a few key leaders.

Leaders move past the big buts in their congregations to solve things through the power of "so."

Whatever your confronting issues, take a breath and think about how you will engineer the desirable changes. We have a phrase we often use with our church staff and our children: "engineer your win." In other words, figure it out. Have the meeting before the meeting. Troubleshoot in advance in order to reach the goals of ministry. Pray. Fast. Seek guidance. Hire a coach. Do the hard work to gather all your information. Be positive. Take the steps necessary to make it happen. This is what it means to "engineer your win."

One of the obstacles we faced early in ministry was how to start a church. We had a big dream of reaching people far from God in a new community, but we had no people, no land, no leadership team, and little money. So, in order to "engineer the win," we invited friends from an hour away to attend our first services. We knew that they would not be able to worship with us on a weekly basis long term, but as we launched into a new community, we needed friendly people who were willing to serve as greeters, musicians, child care and cleanup workers, and soon. At our first service we were thrilled to have 150 people in attendance. However, more than seventy-five of them were friends from other communities who had come in to help us get started. Their attendance in those early services gave us tremendous manpower and enthusiasm to start strong.

We also struggled with obstacles in trying to grow our small-group ministry. Even with a full-time staff, we had not been able to get beyond seventy-five groups. Most churches find barriers in growth that are difficult to break through. In our group system, seventy-five was that barrier. And most likely, whether your current system is Sunday school, a midweek ministry, or small groups throughout the week, you have probably faced some obstacles and growth barriers.

As we were looking to make a staff change in our small-group ministry, we talked with a friend who said, "You're asking the wrong question. Instead of asking Who? ask What? Change the strategy and see what happens." This is where Grab, Gather, and Grow came into play. Instead of looking for a new staff person to implement the same old structure, we needed new structure. Then we could consider what type of staffing needed to be in place to implement the new system. But first, we needed a new system.



It's important to note the word system here. The G3 process is not a program or a study. It's a disciple-ship process and a growth system. There's a big difference between church programs and church processes. On the one hand, with a program or study, you do it once and you're done. A system, on the other hand, sets up a structure for continual growth. G3 is a process to help you build a disciple-making system that becomes part of the DNA of your congregation. It becomes part of how ministry is done in your setting.

The system of developing smaller groups within and beyond the church stems from the model we see in Acts 2. The early church met together in the temple courts. But it also met in smaller gatherings from house to house. Throughout scripture, we read about how important it is to do life together. We read about praying for one another, loving one another, and encouraging one another, just to name a few. The best place to live life with each other is in a smaller setting, where we can really do life together.

The G3 system is not a process to delegate. It is led from the pulpit by the lead pastor. Often in ministry, we are taught or advised to delegate responsibilities. It is a helpful way to multiply ministries in a congregation. But when you want to share new ideas and get the entire congregation involved, it is always the responsibility of the lead pastor to cast the vision.

If your church has someone, whether on staff or a layperson, who is responsible for the group system, he or she will need to be involved in an integral way. But the role of vision casting is best done from the pulpit. The primary tasks of the staff and lay volunteer is to develop a system for deploying materials, following up with facilitators, troubleshooting issues within the group, and helping groups find mission projects. But it is not their job to cast the vision or get people into groups.

When the lead pastor gets behind the Grab, Gather, and Grow process and weaves it into the DNA of how the church operates, including making it part of the weekend messages, it legitimizes the system. Everyone knows this is who we are and this is where we are going.

One of the questions that must be settled as you move into the G3 process is well-known in the world of groups: "Are we a church with groups or of groups?" There is a vast difference between the two. The church with groups has value in making Bible study part of the menu of program offerings within the church body. The church of groups makes it clear that all attendees need to be part of a group in order to live out the Great Commandment and Great Commission in community. When the lead pastor repeatedly casts the vision of being a church of groups, it sets a clear expectation and empowers the process.

As you cast this vision of having 100 percent and more of your attendees engaged in groups, do it with confidence and enthusiasm. It really is happening at churches all around the country, and yours could be next!


Defining the Three G's

In chapter 4 we will take you step-by-step through the process of implementing the G3 process. But first, let's break down the process into three simple steps. The simplicity of the process is actually a key to the success of the whole strategy!

As you communicate to the general congregation, here are the three essentials you want them to know and do:

(1) Grab a resource.

(2) Gather a few friends.

(3) Grow together through the upcoming series.

Keep it that simple. People are more likely to buy into new ways of doing things when the process is understandable and clear.

Grab – Invite your attendees to grab a free DVD and printed resource to guide a small group. This process typically begins two weeks before the launch of a new message series and continues through the first week or two of that message series. The lead pastor invites everyone in the congregation to take the resource, as a gift, in exchange for being willing to gather a few friends and grow through this series. The materials work best when designed as a supplement to the weekend message.

By having materials readily available after a worship service (or other gathering), you lower the bar for leadership, allowing everyone to participate as a host. This will exponentially expand the pool of people you may be able to reach during the gather-and-grow stage.

In larger congregations with media staff, if time and resources allow, you may want to create these video-based teaching materials in-house. However, this step is not necessary. For example, as a smaller congregation, when preparing to purchase land, we used John Ortberg's study If You Want to Walk on Water as our small-group resource. We coupled it with weekend messages about faith and generosity. It worked really well because it fit the challenging context in the life of our faith community.

It is possible to adapt various short-term video-based studies to fit the G3 process. Other video studies we have used in a church-wide series include The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkerson; The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren; and Life's Healing Choices by John Baker.


Excerpted from Grab, Gather, Grow by Jim Cowart, Jennifer Cowart. Copyright © 2016 Jim and Jennifer Cowart. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Grab, Gather, and Grow xiii

Chapter 1 The Role of Leadership 1

Chapter 2 Defining the Three G's 11

Chapter 3 Key Components to Success 15

The Importance of Balance 15

The Approach to Community 17

The Release of Control 18

The Power of Synergy 21

Chapter 4 Building the G3 Infrastructure 23

Step #1 Design Your G3 Strategy 23

Step #2 Cast the Vision 31

Step #3 Grab the Resource 33

Step #4 Follow Up with Hosts 35

Step #5 Gather the Crowd 40

Step #6 Grow Together 42

Step #7 Communicate What's Next 43

Chapter 5 Dealing with Traditional Systems 45

Sunday School 45

Midweek Services 46

Affinity Groups 47

Chapter 6 The G3 Timeline 49

Chapter 7 Getting Started 51

Appendix: Session One, Living the Five 53

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