The H.O.S.T. Ask can be a “game-changer call-to-action” for churches desiring to connect every person in their local body in biblical community. It’s a signature move reserved only for the Lead Pastor during a weekend service. If executed strategically, it can draw in willing vessels who are hidden in crowd. This one move can supercharge your upcoming church wide campaign and groups launch!
First off, it’s important to point out that The H.O.S.T. Ask is one important piece of The H.O.S.T. Model and a church wide campaign (if your church employs a different tactic, parts of this article may not be relevant for you) . The H.O.S.T. model lowers the entry-level requirements to facilitate a small group during a short sprint of small groups (anywhere from 5-8 weeks) that coincide with the weekend message series. My friend Steve Gladen (who has popularized this approach) explains the theology behind the paradigm in his book Small Groups with Purpose:
When Jesus recruited His disciples in Matthew 4, His first requirement was “follow Me.” Three years later it was “die for me.” There is a huge gap between “follow me” and “die for me.” Over the course of time Jesus raised the bar of requirements on the disciples. He didn’t scare them off in Matthew 4 by saying “come die for me”; he started with a crawl step – “follow me” – and then developed them to a place of leadership where they would die for him.
The acronym for H.O.S.T. stands for…
H – Have a Heart for People
O – Open Your Home
S – Serve a few snacks
T – Turn on a Video
What the H.O.S.T. Model and H.O.S.T. Ask can accomplish is the closing of the gap of not having enough group settings to plug-in every person in your church (see Is Your Discipleship Model For Everyone?). By lowering the bar for entry and leveraging the influence of the Lead Pastor, a church can overcome common assimilation and discipleship obstacles that can hold churches down for years.
Here are 12 Keys to an Effective H.O.S.T. Ask…
1. An Attractional Church Wide Campaign Theme. You need to select a theme and topic that people will be interested in engaging with. My church has done 40 Days of Freedom, The Influential Disciple and This is Real Life. These are much more interesting than “Exegeting Genealogies” or “Dispensational Indoctrination.”
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2. Create a Simple Sign-up Form or Bulletin Insert. Include a graphic or logo for the campaign along with fields for their names, email and phone number. At this point, you don’t need detailed information beyond that. Make sure every person gets handed one as they walk into church. I’ll talk more about this below…
3. Have the Lead Pastor make The Ask in the middle of their message 6-8 weeks before the campaign. The Lead Pastor’s message is the most valuable communications real estate in the church. Connecting every person in the church can be one of the greatest blessings to a church or one of its greatest struggles. You need to give it your best swing and this is the spot where you can go-for-the-fence. Tie in The Ask to a point in their message that provides a similarity with the campaign strategy or theme. It could be connected to a point on serving or relationships or discipleship. One year we did 40 Days of Prayer and our pastor was preaching thru the Book of Daniel on the weeks we were doing the H.O.S.T. Ask. As our pastor taught on how Daniel was a man of prayer, he pivoted from that point into the H.O.S.T. Ask for our 40 Days of Prayer campaign.
4. The Ask should cast vision for the growth potential and big picture of the church wide campaign; not the small group strategy. For example:
“This Fall we want to see all of you experience more FREEDOM in your lives! This is why we’re doing 40 Days of Freedom where we will be immersed in freedom through a six-week message series, a daily devotional, amazing video content and small groups!” Do you see the difference? Small groups are just one component of a larger movement with different moving parts. This is why it’s called a church wide campaign, NOT a small group campaign.
5. The Ask should invite everyone to hold up their sign-up form. The Lead Pastor should have a sign-up form in their hand and raise it up while they ask everyone else to do the same, “Everyone should’ve gotten one of these when they came in today. Please take it out and hold it up so I can see it.” Clear and simple directions will keep everyone’s focus where it needs to be.
6. The Ask should include a brief explanation of what a H.O.S.T. is. Have a slide with the H.O.S.T. acronym and after a short explanation of it, let your people know, ‘If you can have a heart for people, open your home, serve a few snacks and turn on a video… you can be a host!”
One of my groups pastor friends told me they got their greatest response when the pastor said, “If you know a few friends or family members that could go through this series with you, I want you to consider hosting a group for you and them… even if it’s only 2 or 3 people.”
7. The Ask should emphasize the low commitment level. For example, “If you sign up today, you’re only on the hook for six weeks, that’s it! If you’re able to open your home six times over the course of 40 days, that’s all we’re asking for from you. All we need you to do is attend a one hour host orientation and we’ll give you everything you need to host a group with your friends and family.”
8. Make the Ask. For example, “We need “x” amount of host sites so everyone in our church can have a chance to go through this series together. Can you help us do this together by signing up on this form to host a group?”
Rick Warren stands in front of his congregation and says it like this, “If our church has ministered to you, would you in turn minister to your community and be willing to host a small group?”
9. Keep the Ask focused and tight. Narrow your “ask” to only one option: hosting a group. Don’t even mention or refer to joining a group yet, that’s for a later time closer to the launch. If possible, don’t emphasize signing up for anything else in the entire service on the week(s) you make the ask.
I had a groups pastor friend share with me about how his church had the pastor ask for hosts to sign up as well as a list of other ministry opportunities to consider. The response for group hosts was very low.
While this may be difficult for other ministry departments to understand, it’s important for everyone to be aware of the benefit of people being connected in group life. Research has proven that people connected in small groups serve more, give more, share their faith more, read their Bible more and pray more than people who are not in small groups. If you get everyone in a small group it will raise the water level for every other ministry of the church.
10. Collect the forms immediately. This is important and this is all about removing barriers to receiving peoples’ commitment. Within a minute or two of the pastor making the ask, pass collection baskets or buckets around for people to turn their forms.
Notice we have done multiple things to erase any potential gaps: we hand a form to every person on the way in, we make sure everyone is holding it and looking at it and we immediately collect it. If you add a step to this process like “sign up in the lobby” or “go online” or “take this form to the table in the back”, you will diminish the response.
I had a friend who tried to implement this at his church and the staff pushed back with the point of view that a paper sign-up form was too traditional and old school. Instead, they decided to instruct people to go to iPad kiosks in the lobby after service and sign up there. He told me their response was uncommonly low. I’m all for relevance and using technology, but in some cases, simple is better.
11. Optional “bells” and “whistles.” If you wanted to you could add a live or video small group testimony. This could be done while you ask people to take out their forms or just before the pastor “makes the ask” towards the end.
12. If you can, make the H.O.S.T. ASK for two or three weeks in a row. After three years of doing this I have always gotten the biggest response on week 1. However, people do miss church and others need time to think about it before they will commit to even a short-term commitment. I have always gotten the least amount of signs up on the third week.
The entire H.O.S.T. ASK should only take 5 minutes. If you have a testimony, maybe 7 minutes all together. When it’s fully understood, planned out and delivered properly, it opens the flood gates for group engagement on new and exciting levels. We used everything shared in this post to help connect 80% of the people in our church in a small group within the first six months of me being on staff at a new church.