Archives For Small Groups

Walking Together as a Group

We may attract attenders through preaching, but disciples are made in small groups.

When you’re leading a campaign, like 40 Days of Prayer, or anytime in the future as you lead your congregation toward a deeper relationship with Jesus, you’ll want to explain to your members why small groups are so important to spiritual growth and why they are more than just a Bible study.

Small groups provide the kind of accountability and support we need to mature as believers, so I want to give you four reasons why they are important to your congregation.

1. Small groups are relational.

You can’t have a conversation with 600 people or 60 people, but you can have a conversation with six people. Generally, when there are more than 10 in a group, people stop talking. It is impossible to learn how to love your neighbor as yourself unless you are involved in a small group of some kind. You don’t need a lot of friends in life, but you do need a few good ones, and you find those solid, supportive friendships in small groups.

Sometimes I hear people say they don’t…

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If God allowed you to baptize hundreds of new believers, add hundreds of new members, and increase your average attendance by thousands in just 40 days, would you call that a revival?

If, during those same 40 days, God prompted people in your church who were previously uninvolved to start serving in ministry, and caused others to commit to a world missions project, what would you call that? An awakening?

What term would you use if God led your members to become so concerned for their spiritually lost friends that they convinced their neighbors to study the Bible for six weeks in one of thousands of small groups meeting in homes around your city? A miracle?

Well, whatever you call it, all this has actually happened at Saddleback Church during the various campaigns we’ve conducted over the years, and we stand in awe at what God has done. And God has repeatedly worked through campaigns hosted by thousands of churches around the world in similar ways.

Untold thousands have come to Christ and have been baptized, welcomed into church membership, connected to a small group or Sunday School class, taught the meaning of real worship and fellowship, equipped for ministry, and then…

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Fall is a prime season to launch groups in churches across the country. In my consulting work, I am working with churches from Florida to Washington and Southern California to New York City. Among churches of various sizes and denominations, we are seeing some tremendous results. But, not every church hits a home run with their group launch. Here are some reasons why.

1. You picked the wrong topic.

Small groups are a great vehicle for people to grow spiritually. But, in order for people to grow in a group, they need to actually be in a group. If a church’s goal is to connect their congregation into groups, then a felt needs topic is very attractive. If you give people something they want to study, they will jump right in. If you offer something they “should” study, it may not go so well.

Let me go on the record: Healthy, balanced small groups cannot live by felt needs topics alone. But, kicking off groups usually doesn’t go well with series on evangelism, stewardship, fasting, or other self-sacrificial studies. You need to establish your goal. If you want to increase the number of groups, then go felt needs….

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My husband and I recently travelled from Australia to New York. While we were there, we visited the 9/11 Memorial Site. It was a very moving experience for us, however amidst the sadness I heard this story:

“A Callery pear tree became known as the “Survivor Tree” after enduring the September 11, 2001 terror attacks at the World Trade Center. In October 2001, the tree was discovered at Ground Zero severely damaged, with snapped roots and burned and broken branches. The tree was removed from the rubble and placed in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. After its recovery and rehabilitation, the tree was returned to the Memorial in 2010. New, smooth limbs extended from the gnarled stumps, creating a visible demarcation between the tree’s past and present. Today, the tree stands as a living reminder of resilience, survival and rebirth” (

It took 9 years of tender loving care before the tree could be replanted. And now with ongoing care this tree flourishes year after year after year. It made me think about the level of initial care and on-going care we need to give to our small group leaders if we want them…

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“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b NIV).

Make a list of the top three times of growth in your life. Odds are quite high that one, two, or three of them were troublesome times. Maybe you brought the trouble on yourself by going to graduate school. Or the trouble happened to you when multiple staff members left at the same time. Either way, trouble comes our way and we have to face it. In times like these, I’m encouraged by an adage a mentor once told me:

Growth does not come free of charge.

Small group ministry lends itself to messes. We want people to be real and to be in relationships. That’s a recipe for messiness! Fortunately, our God is one of restoration and growth in the midst of pain.

As long as you’re going to have the messes, you (and your small group leaders) might as well grow from them. In God’s Word we see imagery of the refiner’s fire subjecting precious metals to extreme temperatures to enhance and perfect it. Consider a mess you may even be in right now, and let God…

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U Turn

While the phrase “Paradigm Shift” may be used and heard a lot today, the actual occurrence of one is still a rare sight.

A paradigm shift can be defined as a dramatic change by members of a group or community in the cognitive framework of basic assumptions, ways of thinking, underlying suspicions and methodology. I believe a true paradigm shift in small group ministry can release a desperately needed disciple-making revolution in our churches.

For many years, small groups were seen merely as an assimilation tool. In other words, if you get new church attenders plugged-in to a small group, they won’t be able to sneak out the “back door.” While this was (and is) a real benefit of small groups, it was an isolated motivator that typically didn’t generate enough sustainable momentum for churches to eventually see the “back door” shrink or close.

Since then, small groups have been re-discovered as an oasis for community, transparency and best friends. In others words, you need a small group to form close-knit, Christian relationships in your life that allow you to be vulnerable and cared for. While this was (and is) a real benefit of small…

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Summer is a great time to reflect on your leadership. You are between the “start of the year” season of ministry and the “fall season,” wrapping up the end of the year. In my personal life, each month, I look at my spiritual health planner to see where I’m at with spiritual goals, course correct, and the push into next month. It’s like my spiritual tune-up.

The same is true for my leadership. For me, summer is a season when I can take a deep breath, pause, and evaluate. I like to look at five attributes of my leadership that affect our church’s Small Group Ministry.

Am I taking a risk?

Comfort zones can be stabilizing places, but they can also be a barrier to the next level of ministry for you and your team. A good question to ask yourself is – Where are you taking a risk in ministry? When I use the word, “risk”, I mean, is there a new way you need to do ministry that may be better? If money wasn’t a barrier, what would you do?

Once you answer that, what are different ways to accomplish that goal with the funds…

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In a recent interview with WIRED*, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and cofounder of Facebook, shared that small group ministry is a model he considers when he looks to the future of his social media website. It’s an intriguing comment from the marketplace and it’s loaded with transferable insights for disciple makers. I think it’s important for me to note that Jesus’ way doesn’t require validation from the secular space, but in certain instances it should reinforce what we already know to be true.

In this particular interview, Mark Zuckerberg is quoted as saying, “When I started Facebook, the mission of connecting people wasn’t a controversial thing.” In recent times, Facebook has unintentionally become a contentious experience for some as they are confronted with their friends’ subjective opinions about politics, social issues, and news stories. What started out as a digital space for people to connect has morphed into an intense debate forum with differing levels of credible information. The article says it like this…

“As has repeatedly said… he believes his platform brings people together—despite the sea of evidence that in its stated mission to “connect the world” Facebook may be helping to tear…

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We just had the Purpose Driven Church Conference at Saddleback. There were thousands of pastors who came to learn and grow. I was talking with one whose question was really good.

How can we possibly make sure groups don’t go crazy? I mean, we have so many scattered all over the place. We don’t want them going off the rails theologically or practically. Is that possible?

The answer to that is so easy. Yet the answer is also the most difficult answer in groups.

You can’t.

However, you can build the infrastructure in such a way that gives support, care, and guardrails to leaders and groups that and helps direct them toward the end in mind. But at the end of the day, you can never guarantee perfection. Here’s a Saddleback-ism you can take to the bank:

You can structure for control, or you can structure for growth. But you can’t structure for both at the same time.

If you want control, you can have it. But it comes at the expense of growth.

If you want growth, you can have it. But it comes at the expense of control.

So at the end of the day, there’s no way to guarantee…

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Work Harder

As an individual, I have a laser beam focus on discipleship. I’m a consistent practitioner. I’m constantly evaluating effectiveness and brainstorming strategies. I speak and teach about it. I love to write about it. In case you didn’t know I also blog about it.

I was speaking at a church recently and had a friend ask me, “Why are you so passionate about discipleship?” I was astonished to find myself at a loss for words. It was difficult for me to answer the question in a succinct fashion. I shared a couple thoughts but left that conversation in deep reflection.

I eventually realized that there were multiple reasons I was passionate about discipleship. The number of reasons was too many for a simple answer because discipleship intersects with multiple motivations.

I believe it’s more important for us to have clarity on “why” we’re growing disciples rather than “what” we’re doing to grow disciples. As long as you know the “why” you can always discover the “what.”

Here is my personal list of 7 motivations for making disciples:

1. Compelled by Compassion. The Bible says that when Jesus “saw the multitudes, he was moved with…

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Burnout is a very real problem for many ministry leaders. I know because I’ve been there. If you aren’t careful, burnout can be a devastating experience that could lead to quitting ministry altogether. God has brought me through more than one season where I needed to do some housework in my own ministry. As leaders, it is so easy for us to become discouraged, and even worse, dislocated. Here are some tools to help you strengthen and sustain your role as a leader:

Never stop learning and growing.

Read and study. Never stop growing. We live in a world of information. There is no shortage of books, small group materials, conferences, seminars, and leadership materials available today. Make time to focus on your own personal growth. Above all, spend time in prayer and God’s Word. Never stop learning and allow God to grow you into the leader he has called you to be.

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52 ESV).

Don’t try to do it alone.

No one can do everything well. If you share responsibilities with your apprentice and group members, you will be more apt…

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One great way to connect your church into small groups is to focus on life transitions. More than at any other time in our lives, we need people when we’re going through periods of great change. Helping people join small groups during these times provides immediate comfort as well as the potential for years of ongoing support.

What transitions should your church use to connect people?

Significant events: Take a look at significant events in people’s lives. When you baptize several people at the same time, try to get them together in a small group.

After you hold a baby dedication, start a parenting small group. In your premarital counseling process, recommend that young couples join a small group. These events happen all the time in churches. Use them to help people build meaningful relationships.

Struggles: Pain motivates people to get connected with other people. No doubt about it. For example, many people are struggling with finances right now. Help them connect with others who are struggling in that area. You can find all sorts of great small group curriculums that deal with finances. Whenever we do a stewardship message at Saddleback, we give people…

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