A decade ago, any book on small groups would be big news. And the book, regardless of the content, would sell like hotcakes. Why? Small group ministry was considered an emerging trend and there wasn’t much written about small groups by mainstream church leaders.
Fast forward to 2011. Oh, how the times change. I rarely visit with a church member or pastor who says they do not have groups at their church … and I receive a review copy of a new book on small groups or small group ministry every two to three months! Today, there’s a lot of competition in the small group resource market. With this stated, I’ll bottom line my review for this book right here for you:
This is a fairly well-written book on small groups to read if you’re just getting started with small group ministry (vs. transitioning or planting a true group-driven and group-based church) and you haven’t read much on the subject. If you want to know how a growing megachurch in the Bible Belt runs their well-oiled and well-thought out small group program, this book will scratch where you itch. For what it’s worth, reading this book clarified the American megachurch small group model for this cell church/holistic small group guy.
If you’re still reading, here are additional thoughts about the book, which I noted during my read:
• I like the stories Eddie includes from him own life and the groups at Lifepoint.
• This book it kept my attention and I read the whole book (that’s huge actually. I write and edit a LOT, but hate to read!)
• I would have enjoyed the book more if the author quoted authors whose work has not been quoted repeatedly in every other small group resource and is quite dated in the small group ministry world (Donahue, Robinson, Frazee, and Warren). To his credit, he did quote some fresh innovative authors, but I would have loved to read far more from them and get his thoughts on how he’s applied their principles in his small groups.
• I snagged a good idea for outreach for my group early on (host a chili cook-off for my street to help my neighbors get to know me and my group members).
• The author poses good questions for pastors to ask themselves before launching small groups in chapter 2, but the answers he provided were from a very traditional programmatic church perspective. My paradigm for doing small groups is that group life is the church. Groups gather regularly on weekends to celebrate what God is doing, and receive encouragement and biblical training. Groups are not added to the weekend services to close the back door, because there’s not enough adult Sunday School class, to fill a sociological or relational void in only going to services with hundreds or thousands in attendance, etc.
• I liked the way Eddie (and Lifepoint) is interested more in the outreach and community stories coming from groups than attendance rosters and reports. Two thumbs up on this healthy attitude!
• Favorite pull quote from book: “Isolation is Satan’s playground” (chap. 2 where the author talks of the importance of living in community with others).
• The author writes about testing the small group waters with pilot groups, which I applauded. However, he didn’t provide a warning not to move forward if goals aren’t achieved in that pilot group (in other words, don’t expand until you see conversion growth, discipleship, and natural leader development. If the pastors can’t do this with core leaders, those leaders sure won’t be able to produce it with average pew sitters).
• Lifepoint has coaches over groups and trains the coaches to relate to leaders and support them personally (vs visit group meetings now and then). Two thumbs up on this aspect as well.
• Lifepoint’s groups are encouraged to be outward-focused by scheduling an event for unchurched people once a month. I do wonder how many groups actually do this though and what their results might be. If he had explained how they make this top-down encouragement actually work with some nitty gritty details about the role of the coach for example, it would help hundreds of American pastors who do this as well, but get nowhere with their ingrown groups.
• Groups are referred to as Bible studies throughout the book, most probably because Eddie explains that there’s a solid hour of it in each meeting. I’m not opposed to studying the Bible in small groups, but I would have loved to read as much about ministry time to members and prayer for the lost. These values weren’t completely absent from the pages, but were overshadowed by the emphasis on Bible study instead of Bible application … leading to confession, ministry, and experiencing Christ’s presence, power, and purposes in very transformational ways.
• According to the author, leadership training is offered numerous times and in many ways at Lifepoint with an emphasis on personal, relational leadership development. I hope readers will pick up on this very important point, which is highlighted but could have been trumpeted a little more loudly. So let me do it for him: Your leadership development process should be very time consuming and relational and no, that cognitive training weekend you’ve scheduled for your busy busy potential leaders is not enough to develop them into the kind of leaders you want!
• The traditional leader-apprentice model is discussed as Lifepoint’s leadership development model. I’m not opposed to it if a Western church can make it work, but Michael Mack’s core team approach (see The Pocket Guide to Burnout-free Small Group Ministry for details) seems far more bullet proof for America. After all, many of our churches are filled with middle class, white collar people who know how much time group leadership takes and the core team approach works much better. (Scott Boren has rightly observed that churches comprised of blue collar and hourly workers seem to do far better in the traditional leader-apprentice model. These kinds of people are not in management in their day jobs and revel in the the idea of leadership, dreaming about being in charge of something big one day.
• I liked the spiritual health assessment Lifepoint developed for leaders, members, and groups after using Saddleback’s stuff for a season. I’m big on self-assessment as a source of motivation and guidance for next steps at all levels, including small group membership. I wish Mosley had published the self-assessments in the appendix so I could review it. I also would have appreciated knowing at present what percentage of his members, leaders, and groups actually use these instruments with frequency to move forward in their spiritual walk with Christ and other group members.
The real-bottom line on Connecting in Communities:
I learned new things about how Lifepoint does groups from this book, but not anything new about aspects of small group ministry. If you are well-read on the topic of small groups, pass on this one and look for books that have something new to say about small group ministry.