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Inside Group: Who Wants to Be A Guinea Pig?

This will never work," Bob said as he threw the leaders guide on his desk. "Where's that author coming from? Mars? That'll never work -- anywhere!"

At this very moment there are thousands of Bobs snorting about the ministry resources they've received from various Christian publishers. They're all convinced those writers' hairbrained ideas will never work -- anywhere, any time, anyhow. The Bobs know their people and they know their history. They've never done it that way before.

Sadly, the Bobs are right some of the time. Some well-intentioned Christian writers sit at their desks or kitchen tables and dream up lessons, Bible studies, and activities that sound really good-on paper. They hope their readers will become willing test pilots of their newborn creations. But the Bobs have learned that being somebody's test pilot is a risky business.


Here at Group Publishing, the creators of this magazine and hundreds of ministry resources, we work with lots of writers. And we're involved in our own local churches. We know how Bob feels. It's frustrating, time-consuming, and risky to wade through untested ideas.

That's why we're passionate about field-testing the ministry resources we produce at Group. We still need "guinea pigs," but we make the trial runs before the resources are published, not after. We can't speak for others, but at Group, we research, pretest, and field-test our ministry concepts to make sure they work before Bob ever sees them.

For example, consider Group's Vacation Bible School programs. Every lesson, craft, snack, game, song, and activity is meticulously tested and retested with real kids and real leaders. The published versions of these ideas work. The guesswork is gone.

The unique organizational structure of Group's VBS has also been thoroughly tested and proven. For instance, we recommend using multiage small groups. Once in a while we hear people say, "Mixing first-graders with third-graders and fifth-graders is asking for trouble. It'll never work." Well, it does work and has worked with hundreds of thousands of kids. Those who've used the VBS as directed have seen their children grow, learn, and retain the biblical truths-without the usual discipline problems found in closely graded classrooms.

Group's VBS also recommends allowing groups of children to prepare the daily snacks. Occasionally people say, "That'll never work." Well, again, this concept has been extensively tested and proven to work marvelously. The kids do a fine job and their acts of service become part of the learning.

Our Group Workcamps for youth offer another example of our dedication to research and testing. The camp's programs and activities receive repeated field-testing before the participants ever arrive at the summer camps. This may be one of the reasons our Group Workcamps ministry has grown to be the largest of its kind-with more than 18,000 participants this summer alone.

In the area of adult education, Group's HomeBuilders Couples Series® works effectively with hundreds of thousands of couples. Some of the interactive experiences in these lessons may seem out of the ordinary for some, but they work very well. From time to time, some people say, "That would never work." But, again, their worries are unfounded. Careful testing has already proven the concepts and worked out the bugs.

We're thankful that thousands of church leaders have come to trust the Group Publishing name, knowing that the guesswork has been taken out of our resources. We often hear, "If it's from Group, I know it'll work."


Do you have a Bob in your church?

Perhaps you've heard him say, "We're not going to do what's written. I just know it'll never work." If so, you may have a couple of problems.

First, if Bob throws out what has already proved successful, your people may miss out on a good ministry outcome. And if Bob dreams up his own substitution, your people will then become Bob's guinea pigs for untested approaches.

Now we're not discouraging Bob or anyone else from adapting solid resources to local circumstances. Good leaders often adapt for size of group, room setting, or other limitations. Adapting is not the same as throwing something out completely because "it'll never work."

Sometimes when Bob says, "It'll never work," he really means, "I've never done it that way before." This suggests Bob's in a rut. He's unwilling to try new approaches, even if they've been shown to be more effective than his old ways. Bob's stuck. He's not growing. And that diminishes your ministry.

If that's the case, it may be time to help your church become a learning church -- one that's willing to look beyond the past, consider new ideas, and embrace change. Be bold. Allow
the Holy Spirit to work within you-and Bob-to bring fresh winds of ministry to our fast-changing world.

Thom Schultz is founder and president of Group Publishing, Inc. Joani Schultz is chief creative officer.

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