The exponential power of a campaign

29 Apr 2021 7:26 AM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

Saddleback Church was the first church to successfully use the campaign strategy, and beginning in 2002 we have developed campaigns such as 40 Days of Purpose, 40 Days of Community, and 40 Days of Love. A campaign is an intensive, churchwide focus on a particular aspect of spiritual growth that involves every age group. Weekend sermons, small group curriculum, children’s Sunday school activities, student ministry programming, memory verses, newsletters, bulletin inserts, and websites are all used to get everyone on the same page for the duration of the campaign, which is usually about six weeks. Over 30,000 churches have successfully used Saddleback campaigns, and the strategy has proven to be an amazing vehicle for spiritual growth and connecting people into groups.

Before developing the campaign strategy, we used connection events to draw people into groups for churchwide events. One day we were in a management team meeting and Rick asked us, “How many groups do we usually start through connection events?” We answered, “About 300.” He said, “That’s great. Add a zero to that. Let’s start 3,000 groups.” We all knew that using connection events would never get us those kinds of numbers, and we told him as much. His answer? “Come up with a different strategy.” And so we did.

This is when we came up with the H.O.S.T. strategy, and it became a huge piece of the puzzle. Rick stood in front of the congregation and said, “If our church has ministered to you, would you in turn minister to your community and be willing to H.O.S.T. a small group? You don’t have to be married to them; just try it out for six weeks and see.” We had so many people respond during the first service, we thought they had misunderstood. Rick repeated the invitation during the second service, clarifying that he was asking people to H.O.S.T., meaning: Have a heart for people, Open their home to a group, Serve a snack, and Turn on a video. We received an even larger response! During that first weekend, a total of more than 2,000 people volunteered to be a H.O.S.T. Now our only problem was to figure out how to prepare 2,000 people to fill and lead a group.

Resources and Support

We started by thinking in simple terms. If someone had never led a group before, what questions might he or she have? Once we had a list of questions, we came up with an FAQ list to provide answers for our new leaders. You can see it at You can do the same for your new leaders. Make your FAQ list available online through your website, as a handout given to your new leaders on day one, as part of your ongoing training, or ideally all three.

Give them answers to something as simple as, “How do I invite somebody to my group?” During our first 40 Days of Purpose Campaign, we gave our H.O.S.T.s a script they could memorize for inviting their friends and neighbors into their small group. That might seem like overkill, but you would be surprised how fearful some of your people will be about just talking to a neighbor. So we gave them a short, one-paragraph script.

We also included suggestions about how to plan for the first meeting, how to set up the room, when to offer the snacks, and what to do about name tags. Finally, we included information on how to use the curriculum and how to share ownership of the group. We tried to think ahead of time of any questions the H.O.S.T.s might have and then gave the answers to them in writing so they could read them in the comfort of their home.

Saddleback Campaigns

We have experienced amazing spiritual and numerical growth during campaigns. For example, through a 40 Days of Purpose Campaign (in just 40 days):

671 new believers came to Christ and were baptized

1,200 new members took C.L.A.S.S. 101 and joined the church worship attendance increased by 2,000

2,200 more people started serving in ministry

3,700 people committed to a world mission project

There are particular distinctions of a Saddleback campaign, including:

  • Small groups provide tremendous potential for exponential growth.
  • We use the term H.O.S.T. instead of leader to lower the bar and increase participation.
  • The H.O.S.T.s are responsible to fill their groups with people they already have a relationship with, increasing the likelihood that the group will continue after the initial study.
  • Senior pastor buy-in is obvious through his involvement from the pulpit, thus increasing the perceived value of small groups and community.
  • Short-term commitments (usually six weeks) are easier to obtain.
  • DVD-based curriculum is easy to use and takes the pressure off the H.O.S.T.
  • Campaign topics have a wide appeal, so more people are likely to want to participate.
  • Small groups are the distribution point for materials of the campaign, so the people of the church feel as though they are missing out on something if they do not join a small group. If people want the book, the key tags, or whatever promotional material you are using, they have to join a small group to receive it.
  • H.O.S.T.s have the support of a community leader who encourages, answers questions, gives guidance, and prays for them.

Think Long Term

As your church does campaigns, you will start and lose a lot of groups, but if you retain a portion of the groups started, you will be ahead of where you started. See figure 17.1 to see how this has played out at Saddleback.

Our first 40 Days of Purpose Campaign (2002) launched with 2,154 groups. By February of the following year, we still had 1,456 of those 2,154 groups. We could view that two ways: (1) we lost about 700 groups (from campaign peak), or (2) we gained almost 700 groups (from before it).

When we looked at the reasons why people did not continue with their group, we found it was not because they did not have a good experience. It was more likely that life got in the way or that we didn’t have the infrastructure in place to support them. Two years later, with our infrastructure in place, we did our 40 Days of Community Campaign and our retention rate went from 68 percent to 86 percent. We learned by stepping out in faith and attempting the seemingly impossible, by moving ahead before we had all of the details worked out, and by making mistakes and learning from them.

Anyone can now benefit from our experience by purchasing one of our Saddleback Church Campaign Kits (, which come with full instructions on how to run the campaign from start to finish. The instructions explain what type of teams you need to develop, and the kit provides a calendar timeline and training DVDs for you and your team to watch. Having lived through nine campaigns in my twelve years as small group pastor at Saddleback Church, I have discovered a strategy is only as good as the foundation and follow through. As they say, the devil is in the details.

A churchwide campaign is an exponentially positive or negative experience for a church depending on how you approach it. Based on my experience and a few battle scars, I have developed the following twelve tips to ensure a positive outcome.

1. Know the compelling question. When you do a campaign, you need to know the question the campaign will answer. For example, in 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 small 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 do a campaign miss the alignment by only doing it for the adults. When your children and teens memorize the same Scriptures, read 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. Without churchwide alignment, you are unintentionally sending the message that only the adults of the church are important. Don’t make that mistake.

3. Stick to the principles and apply your own methodologies. When aligning your campaign for children and students, 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 Scripture, because that is appropriate for their level. The same principle should be applied to your entire church. Weekend messages need to be adapted to your church context and culture. Small group questions can be adapted to the needs of the group. If there is a churchwide or small group project, it should stay true to your church culture. For example, if your church has a strong presence in the homeless community, serve those same people with your campaign projects.

4. Language matters. One of the most significant things we learned through recruiting for our campaign was 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. It didn’t work well when we asked for lay pastors because the 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, and all of a sudden we had plenty of volunteers! Interestingly enough, we never changed the duties of a small group leader, just the language. That was enough. All of the preconceived notions of what it takes to be a leader just fell away. If a H.O.S.T. continues with the group after the campaign, we enter them into our Small Group Leadership Development Pathway (see chapter 13), which provides them with the relationships and resources to nurture and build their leadership skills.

5. Employ various avenues of learning. The campaign strategy uses a common theme that is taught in various ways to help people learn through their particular learning style. People can learn through listening to the weekend services. People can learn through discussing topics in their small groups. People can learn through doing hands-on projects with their small groups. People can learn through memorizing Scripture. And people can learn through reading as they work through the campaign materials in their small groups.

6. Once a year is enough. When you do too many campaigns in a year, two things happen: your volunteers who pulled it off won’t be able to manage doing another campaign so soon, and your congregation won’t experience the anticipation of an upcoming event. At Saddleback we do one campaign a year, and trust me, it comes around again quickly!

7. Provide a clear start and end date. Our campaigns last forty days, which includes six preaching weekends focused on the campaign topic and a forty-day devotional reading, with a couple days of grace! This is a short enough commitment that most people are willing to try it but long enough to instill good habits. When you have a clear start and end date, people are more willing to come along for the ride.

8. Expect high intensity for staff, volunteers, and members. One of the secrets of a successful campaign is sustaining high intensity for forty days and then backing off to allow staff and volunteers time to recover and give members time to process the experience. Let your church calendar return to normal and give your small groups time to stabilize. For a campaign to happen successfully, you must clear the calendar for the duration of that campaign. Stop programs and events that could be distracting—sometimes good programs can stop great things from happening in a campaign. So once the campaign concludes, allow the calendar to get back to normal. Also, a campaign creates many new groups, and when the campaign ends, you need time to assess where those groups are. 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 and celebrate! Too often the church does a great job of recruiting and getting the job done but then fails to appropriately celebrate 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 did. Why? Because he knew people forget. When you celebrate, you etch God’s work on your people’s hearts. Often we give little reminders such as key chains so that when people see them, they will be reminded of how God worked through so many people’s lives and then celebrate the campaign into which they put so much time and energy.

10. Plan for after the campaign. It is important to have an infrastructure in place to support your new groups. You don’t have to be an expert; you just have to be one step ahead of that new small group leader. At Saddleback our infrastructure includes community leaders who oversee new small groups and the Small Group Leadership Development Pathway to train small group H.O.S.T.s who choose to continue to lead.

Give your groups a next step. Around the fourth week of the six-week campaign, we encourage groups to determine what their next step will be. Will they continue or part ways? We provide curriculum suggestions and encourage them to get the new material as soon as possible. Very often, just avoiding downtime can make the difference in whether or not a group continues.

11. Give people an out after the campaign is finished. In a campaign it is important to give people permission to leave their group or disband the group altogether. I know this feels counterintuitive, but it will serve you well. Now, let me be clear, I want them to continue, and I want to give them every possible reason to stay together; but on the other hand, I don’t want them to feel guilty if their group doesn’t continue. Why? Because when they do what you have asked, they need to be rewarded and thanked, not be criticized for not continuing. I have learned that 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 their group.

12. Budget to remove financial obstacles. When we do a campaign, we pay for everything. In order to make a spiritual impact on anyone who joins a small group, we provide the devotional reading books, memory key tags, prayer guides, small group DVDs, and small group study guides. It’s a lot of money up front, but it brings huge dividends on the back side. By investing in your church in this way, it shows your people not only that you care about them but also that you are willing to put your money where your heart is.

As you dive into a campaign, take the time to learn from other churches in your area that have done a campaign. Their experience will save you a tremendous amount of time and energy. You can find other churches through the Small Group Network (

Steve Gladen, Small Groups with Purpose: How to Create Healthy Communities (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 213–221.

Josh Hunt ● ● ● 575.650.4564 ● 1964 Sedona Hills Parkway, Las Cruces, NM 88011
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