Archives For Small Groups

KeysWhat makes for a dynamic small group experience?  Most of us know it when we see it.  Most of us have been in groups that have a different quality and go well beyond the ordinary.  I’ve written about what I think are theessential ingredients of life-change several times.

Here are what I think are the 5 keys to a dynamic small group experience:

  1. A group leader who is becoming more like Jesus.  Like Paul, the leader can say, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ,” 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV).  Embedded in this key are the practices of Jesus (praying for group members, thinking about their needs, loving them even when they fail, celebrating their faith steps, and appropriately challenging their stumbles.  A key for me is that need to be becomingmore like Jesus.  Like Jesus’ closest followers, they can start very far from being like Him.  See also The 12 Were Not Chosen from the Core and Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, or Open Bar.
  2. A group leader who is being mentored by someone who is a few steps ahead.  I’ve often said, “Whatever you want to happen in the lives…

    Continue Reading

On Christmas Day, one of our traditions is to read the Christmas story from Luke 2 and before presents are opened, we discuss what we want to give Jesus this coming year. Now before you think higher of my family than you should, this is not a lengthy theological discussion, and not always met with the greatest excitement. However this year we actually had some great discussion and lead to many rabbit trails conversations, some good and some…well, really?

A rabbit trail conversation that turned interesting, was one of my kids wanted to ask Siri what she got for Christmas. The iPhone reply was perfect. She said, “I have learned to be content in what I have”. Now as a parent, this was a great springboard to drive home the value of being “content” and not wanting materialism to creep in. What it also brought up was the idea: do we ever NOT want to be content? Interesting, huh?

When you think of the New Year, for many of us it is about change. For many, it’s about being content. Culture calls these “New Year…

Continue Reading

Tips for New Year


Join Steve Gladen, Brett Eastman, Mark Howell, and Allen White as they talk to small group ministry leaders about five ways to go into 2013 strong. They’ll discuss how to disciple people, grow more groups, and have a healthier church.

Watch Now

Continue Reading

ObstaclesRecently I was in a room full of some very experienced, very sharp minds when it comes to starting new groups.  Admittedly, they were attempting to use the word groups to characterize both on-campus Sunday school classes and off-campus small groups.

At one point, a panel of four experts talked about their own personal experiences in starting groups.  Imagine my consternation as I listened to their stories of starting one new group last year.  One.  Another expert talked about starting a new group every year for the last several.  I’m not making this up.

It was a very frustrating  experience.  Honestly, it was fascinating and frustrating at the same time.  I found myself equally fascinated by some of their conclusions and frustrated by some of those same conclusions.

At one point, the moderator asked everyone to take a few minutes and share with those around you “what you think are the biggest obstacles in the way of starting groups.”  Again, it was frustrating and fascinating.

The Biggest Obstacles:

Keeping in mind that my answers describe the biggest obstacles standing in the way of both on-campus and off-campus efforts, here’s what I’ve got:

If you are like so many people across the world, you are thinking through what is it is you can give the people you love and care for at Christmas? Partly it is because of tradition, but what the Christmas season does in so many of us is make us think about how we want to show we appreciate them.

I heard an 8 year old say to her mom, “I would rather be ‘poor’ and live in a small house so that I could just have more time with you this Christmas!” Wow, what a powerful statement! (Actually it caused me to think, “What would my kids say?” But then I woke up and realized that my kids still want the gifts! (just kidding)) In a zone when we let a budget drive the type of “gifts” we give, maybe we should recalibrate our thinking to those we appreciate around us and re-think the term “gift” this season.

Jesus discipled and valued the twelve disciples relationally. So it comes as no surprise the number one way to appreciate your leaders just might be relationally.

The big…

Continue Reading

1. Know where you are headed

When you consider a believer, a follower of Christ in your church, what is it you want them to look like and act like? What is it you want them to “be”? Too many churches start up a small-groups ministry because it’s “the thing to do.” But it may not be the thing to do. Once you know what you want, then you can back up and decide what will get you there.

At Saddleback Church, we want followers of Christ to balance the Great Commission and Great Commandment in their hearts. We want to see them belonging to Christ and His church, growing deeper in Him, serving God where they are gifted, sharing Christ and surrendering every aspect of their life to God. That is spiritual health for us. Check out our Spiritual Health Assessment.

What do you want? Once we knew our “end in mind,” we asked the question: What will get us there? Our answer came from Acts 5:42, and it involved a combination of weekend services and small groups.

2. Find the lay of the land in your church.

Small Group

Continue Reading

If you’re familiar at all with North Point’s small group strategy, you already know that their primary way of connecting adults into groups is an event called GroupLink*.  Offered more frequently in the past, GroupLink is now offered twice a year at two of the best times to connect people (August and January).

While all of this is fairly well known, you may not know about an interesting new addition to the North Point small group strategy.  Recognizing that they may be missing a segment of their adults who aren’t ready to make a 12 to 18 month commitment, they launched an easier next step called Access Groups.  At 7 to 8 weeks long, Access Groups are offered at strategic times in between GroupLinks (March, June, and October).

In addition to a much shorter commitment, Access Groups are offered on topics that have immediate appeal to adults (finances, marriage, dating, etc.).  Seven Questions That Rattle in the Mind of Most Men is a great example of an Access Group.  Seven Questions is a 7 week experience offered on-campus from 7:00 to 7:59 a.m.  Not a destination, the same content is…

Continue Reading

Fellowship Is a Verb

By Steve Gladen

In early 2000, our leadership team began asking the question: What does a healthy follower of Christ look like? If we are to be successful in fulfilling Christ’s commission to make disciples, we need to define the term “disciple.” Through a series of meetings, we determined that a healthy follower of Christ is someone who is balancing the five biblical purposes in his or her life and heart.


A healthy follower of Christ is:

  • Surrendering his or her heart and life to Christ on an ongoing basis.
  • Experiencing fellowship with other Christians.
  • Growing in Christ through “being” and “action.”
  • Discovering and using his or her God-given gifts and abilities.
  • Reaching out and sharing the love of Christ with nonbelievers.


Unless you know what the target is, you cannot hit it. For us, the target became health through balance. As we begin to reflect Christ and become more like him, the focus of our lives will shift away from self-centeredness and toward serving him through every area of our life. That is health and balance.

So if we as a church were trying to produce healthy followers of Christ, our leadership team had to decide what the best tool or delivery system is to produce that desired result….

Continue Reading

HeartA relationship full of love and passion will go on forever. Right? Reality shows tell us that statement just might not be true. Passion can fade very quickly. Every successful relationship works at keeping that passion alive. The same is true in ministry. In the 14 years that I have been at Saddleback Church and the 29 total years I have been in full time ministry, I have learned passion is the common trait that keeps you pressing on through the hard times and sparking your imagination to dream about risking for God in the good times. Passion can’t be faked; it must be born out of the soul. So where is your passion? What keeps you in the game? Apply these ten and stay in the ministry game!

1. Dwell in the Word. Colossians 3:16 (NIV) tells us, Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Dwell is to “live in” or “be at home.” It is a first nature, not a second nature. Not…

Continue Reading

Cone SlideIf you’ve been along for very much of this conversation, you’ve seen this diagram.  Adapted from an idea of Glen Hiemstra’s, I use this diagram all the time.   Whether I’m working with our team here at Canyon Ridge or I’m off consulting, this diagram works its way into the discussion.

Today, I want to point out two things that I think will help you.

First, one of the most important things any of us can do is to painstakingly dissect and diagnose what’s happening right now in our ministry.  Andy Stanley articulates the reason we need to pay attention to the present when he points out that:

“Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.”

When you are diagnosing the present in your ministry, you need to be as honest as you can about the systems, programs, messaging, and strategies.  Another component I always want to look closely at are the kinds of people you are currently producing (i.e., are they consumers as opposed to contributors, are they other centered, what’s their maturity level, etc.).

Diagnosing the present is a very important step that often gets over looked on…

Continue Reading

Some churches raise the bar when it comes to recruiting small group leaders. You need to be a member for X amount of time, well versed in the church’s doctrinal statement, agree to a lifestyle covenant, etc. The more qualified the leader, the stronger the group will be… or so goes conventional wisdom. But is that really true?

My friend Ron Wilbur, one of Saddleback’s Small Groups Pastors, once told me I’d probably make a terrible small group leader. It wasn’t that he was trying to discourage me. Ron taught me something valuable when he said, “your tendency will be to teach and answer all the questions, and you’ll kill the discussion and short-circuit the relationship-building process.” Now that I lead a small group in my home, I have to agree with Ron. If I’m not careful and intentional, I’ll be the bottleneck that holds my group back from being a healthy micro-community.

So if we’re not looking for long term members and Bible scholars, who makes the best group hosts? Most commonly, new believers in Christ, but I would expand that criteria to include anyone with these key characteristics.

Continue Reading

Different Kind of TribeTraditional small group ministry might seem like a leap ahead of the lecture-based classroom in terms of relationship-building, but the rate of change in our surrounding culture still far outpaces the rate of change within the church. Small group ministry is changing. Again. And Rick Howerton, one of the few guys I read religiously concerning group life has written an excellent guide for embracing this change in his new book, A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic.

In a traditional small group environment, small groups are a new way of organizing the church, assimilating people into the church, and expanding in number outwardly. But Rick challenges our traditional approach, and even our terminology, choosing to term groups “Christian micro-communities.” It’s not that they are entirely Christian – in fact, genuine Christian micro-communities do and should include people still far from God. Though Rick doesn’t use this phrase in the book, I think he echoes what has been weighing on my heart lately – how to include people and help them to belong to a community, even…

Continue Reading