Planning Small Groups with Purpose

Steve Gladen: A Field-Tested Guide to Design and Grow Your Ministry

Planning Small Groups with Purpose
A Field-Tested Guide to Design and Grow Your Ministry
(Baker, 2018)

WHO: Steve Gladen, an elder at Saddleback Church and pastor of small groups.

HE SAYS: “Within the whole-church system, each ministry—including your small group ministry—must develop a comprehensive plan that fits within the system and helps achieve your church’s vision and mission.”

THE BIG IDEA: Using his experience at Saddleback Church, the author provides strategies, decisions and tools that begin or reenergize a small group ministry to help readers understand how to work within the culture and systems of their church.

Part 1, “The Foundation,” focuses on the building blocks of ministry.
Part 2, “The Home,” walks through five areas of the “house”—the kitchen, where people connect; the family room, where people grow; the study, where people invest; the front door, where people reach others; and the dining room, where people sustain—and explores four planning questions in each area.

“No matter your denomination, church size, church paradigm, church polity, or church’s location on this planet—if you will prayerfully, thoughtfully answer these questions, you will end up with a plan that will save you pain.”

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What are some typical mistakes small and large churches have made in their approaches to small groups?

A common mistake churches make is to not fully commit to small groups. Small groups often get added to a ministry program that already includes Sunday school and/or a midweek service. This causes confusion because people are not sure what is most important. They can’t do everything and it forces them to make choices.

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A related mistake is not having clear outcomes for groups and for the people who are in them (what does a disciple look like?). Small groups have the potential to be the most effective approach to discipleship if churches are willing to fully commit to them and they know exactly what they want their groups to produce. When groups are done biblically as in Acts (house to house), they align to the weekend services (temple courts) and are the center of the church’s discipleship, the structure for the ministries, the launch pad of evangelism, the enrichment of worship and the network of authentic fellowship.

Small groups/life groups have been around for a while. Do you see this trend continuing? How do you think they will change in the future?

Small groups will continue to be an important element of church ministry. When God created the church in Acts 2, he did it with two delivery systems: large group worship in the temple courts and small group fellowship in homes. Historically, persecution has often made large group worship impossible, but small groups have consistently been part of the church’s ministry.

What churches are rediscovering today is how effective small groups are at discipleship. They do more than just transfer spiritual information to group members—they actually produce life transformation. I anticipate that more churches will take advantage of small groups in the future and that they will lean on groups as their primary discipleship method.

What do people seem to enjoy most about well-organized small groups?

People are naturally drawn to the relationships that small groups provide. In well-organized groups we make sure that those relationships grow beyond the social level to the point where people can truly and intimately share their lives with each other. When this happens, a small group becomes a community where members can help each other to grow in all areas of their lives. This is the benefit that people in well-organized groups enjoy. Social friendships are repurposed into a deeply supportive relationships that create a spiritual family that in many cases is even closer than their biological family, and that produces in them spiritual, emotional, intellectual, social and even physical health.

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