Have you gotten your copy of Steve Gladen‘s book, Small Groups with Purpose: How to Create Healthy Communities? Steve is the Pastor of Small Group Community for Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, where he has served for the last thirteen years. Steve and Saddleback have launched many new groups in many creative ways over those years. He has learned much from success, challenge, and even failure.
In his 234-page book, Steve covers a lot of details. Especially in the book’s first section, “What is a Health and Balanced Small Group?,” Steve is transparent about his learning journey related to small groups and small group ministry. You will want to read carefully chapter two, “The Saddleback Difference: The Ten Foundations of Saddleback’s Small Group Ministry.” There Steve is clear that “too often people go to a conference and ten try to implement in their home church the strategies that succeed at another church” (p. 23). But at the same time, the ten foundations offer great challenges to thinking and planning (here are the first five foundations):
- Bold Faith, Not Cautious Planning
- Purpose Driven Groups, Not Special-Interest Groups
- Effective, Not Perfect
- Intentional Focus, Not Flavor of the Day
- Leadership Potential, Not Proven Leaders
For some small group ministry leaders, the length of this book will intimidate. But Steve has covered so many important details. For instance, the book’s second section, “What Does This Look Like?” contains these chapters:
- “Is Your Vision Blurry? Define Success Clearly”
- “It All Starts with Community: Build a Foundation for Health and Balance”
- “Leading for Spiritual Formation: How to Create a Church Disciples, not Attendees”
- “Don’t Lead Alone: Mobilize Your Groups from Sitting to Serving”
In chapter four, “Is Your Vision Blurry? Define Success Clearly,” states, “Unless you know the target, you cannot hit it” (p. 46). He suggests planning with the end in mind. In chapter five he clarifies that he and his leaders believe “meeting off campus rather than in the church building promotes deeper fellowship within the small group” (p. 57). They also value meeting weekly where “a member can miss one meeting and then jump right back in the following week” (pp. 57-58).
The book’s third section, “Step-by-Step, How Can I Do This?” focuses especially on members spiritual growth and leader recruitment and training. Again, some small group ministry leaders will be intimidated by the scale of ministry at Saddleback, but Steve tries to share the growth journey they have been on. That means they have made many adjustments along the way. In chapter thirteen, Steve shares ten training tips (here are the first five of those):
- Make training an expectation.
- Make use of continuing education instead of giving all your training to new leaders immediately.
- Encourage training that is easily transferable.
- Make the training as relational as possible.
- Provide high-impact training.
The book is laid out well. Each chapter concludes with a section of questions that could easily be used for gathering your small group ministry team to discuss important issues. This is a book that should be added to the reading list and library of every person who want to start or grow their small group ministry.