Archives For Small Groups

Jewish TempleTemple courts and house to house.”  Ever used that line to connect small group ministry to the very beginning of the Church?  You know you have.  That phrase is probably top 5 in the all time most popular ways to describe the importance of small group ministry.

The line is a kind of paraphrase from right here in Acts 2:42-47:

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Temple courts and house to house.

Ever wonder how that actually happened?  The house to house part?  Remember, at the end of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 we’re told that “Those…

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Before you can build your small group strategy, you have to realize the importance of working on your own spiritual journey. We all have a dark side – something broken inside us. If you are not aware that you need to work on your own issues, you are wasting your time. If you don’t realize your spiritual journey needs to be engaged and developed, you are missing what being formed in Christ is all about. Before you can guide your small groups in achieving balance, you must understand how to work on balance in your own life.

On the first Friday of every year, Lisa and I get together and share our personal Spiritual Health Plan for the coming year. In 1999, when my daughter Erika was just a baby, Lisa and I hired a sitter and went out and exchanged our plans over dessert. I looked hers over quickly and said, “Hey, this looks good,” and returned the plan to her. She held mine in her hands and was still reading. I waited for her response. A few long minutes passed, and eventually she…

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I don’t know about you, but I need to be reminded about certain things on a regular basis. As I think through discipleship, here’s my current list of things I need to know:

  1. It takes a disciple to make a disciple. While I sometimes argue that anyone can host a small group (even a non-Christian), only a disciple can make a disciple.
  2. Real disciples make disciples. I think this is an important distinction. It means that if you’re not actively making disciples, you probably aren’t a disciple.
  3. Disciples are rarely made in rows. From an environmental angle, a disciple is far more likely to made in a circle. After all, becoming a disciple has far less to do with digesting information (like in a class) and far more to do with spending time with those who are becoming like Him.
  4. You don’t have to arrive before you begin making disciples (see Philippians 3:12-14 if you don’t believe me).
  5. You don’t have to use printed curriculum to make disciples. The early disciples made it happen even before they had the New Testament.
  6. You don’t become a disciple by…

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Hand on the WorldSaddleback outgrew me a long time ago. If Saddleback were limited to the number of people I could personally care for, we would be stuck at 300. Early in the life of Saddleback, I realized that my role was to equip the congregation for ministry, not do all the ministry myself.

I simply can’t minister to everyone’s needs at the church. It’s impossible in a church the size of Saddleback. I can’t counsel all the people who come to our church for counseling. I can’t pray specifically for every prayer request that comes into the church. I can’t. But I’ve learned that God never meant for me to meet everyone’s needs. And He didn’t mean for you to do that either. We’re not Atlas holding our churches up! I found that when I resigned as general manager of the universe, my ministry was a lot more effective.

While there are lots of reasons to involve your congregation in small groups, sharing the shepherding duties was one of the original reasons we started small groups at Saddleback. In the 32 years of Saddleback’s history,…

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I get questions.  Some of them are just too good to keep to myself.  Here’s one from yesterday:

Hi Mark, I’ve been following your blog for a few months now and it’s been extremely helpful. In fact, because of your blog, this fall we went “open bar” and Saddleback style on our small group strategy and saw great results! We doubled our small group numbers with 50 new groups/leaders added! How do we keep the new groups going?

Here’s what I said: Can I tell you something?  I love what you’re doing!  How awesome is that!  Just think about how many unconnected people got an opportunity to connect.  That is so good!

Next, here are a few things you need to do right away:

Get a plan to help as many of your groups continue as possible: What you do right now determines how many of your newest groups will survive the holidays.  Lyman Coleman pointed out years ago that 6 weeks is short enough to prompt many to put a toe in the water.  What we learned at Lifetogether is that it’s also long enough for members to begin to feel connected.  But…if…

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It seems like small groups are everywhere.  And churches that have a recognized small group ministry are becoming more the standard than the exception.  Why is that?  What’s going on?

As director of, I had a lot of contact with churches that were neck deep in the small group movement.  My job revolved around helping pastors and small group leaders keep their small groups active and healthy.  So I got a lot of feedback about what’s driving the rise of small group ministry.

There are definitely many dynamics involved in the small group movement, but I’ve noticed a common thread.  And that is the strong desire people have to experience genuine community.  People are seeing the need for a kind of community that’s really missing in our information age culture.  There are a lot of broken lives and a lot of dysfunction in traditional relationships and the family so the whole idea of bringing the New Testament community back into the church is something people see and feel they need.

I witnessed this phenomenon first hand in my own church.  As the church grew to a point where it was impossible to…

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Small group ministry is all about people.

Day in and day out at Saddleback Church I could spend the majority of my time dealing with people and mess. After all, that is why we went to Seminary—to deal with people. People aren’t an interruption, they are why we exist! So, here is the question, in a ministry filled with people,

When and can we say “no” to the people God set before us?

I know for me it is a constant struggle.

I was looking through the book of Luke the other day and saw a cool leadership point that Jesus so delicately walked—one that every small group point person and pastor must walk each day. In Luke 4:42-44 we see a part of scripture where Jesus was ministering to people. He was a huge success, so huge that we see Jesus withdrawing from the people. Scripture even says “they tried to keep him from leaving.” Jesus’ response was in essence, “No. I must keep moving.”

Now imagine the people to whom he told this. They wanted their agenda fulfilled. They probably used everything within their power to persuade Jesus to…

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SexualityTook a look this weekend at Birds and Bees: A Conversation about God, Sex and Sexuality, a new study from Threads (LifeWay’s young adult line of curriculum).  The study was written by Gregg Matte, senior pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church and founder of Breakaway Ministries at Texas A&M University, one of the largest weekly college Bible studies in the nation.

Based on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Birds and Bees unpacks this important passage and develops a biblical perspective on sex and sexuality.  While the cover proclaims, “Whether your single, in a serious relationship, or married, this study was written for you,” I think that the key to making this study a great choice for many groups will be a commitment to follow what the study refers to as “non-negotiable ground rules” (explained in the first video) and basic sensitivity.

The study covers a fairly extensive set of topics in its six sessions.

  • God’s will and purpose for sex and sexuality
  • Understanding God’s intended design for sex and sexuality
  • How sexual desire turns into lust–and what to do about it
  • Exploring the complications  and effects of homosexuality and same-sex attractions
  • Overcoming sexual wounds
  • Practical…

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Can Virtual Community be Biblical?

Let’s start this conversation by clearly stating Saddleback does not have this figured out. I would also like to state that Saddleback isn’t afraid of messiness or trying to figure out how to build this plane while we are flying it! Yes, many times we discover we don’t have all the parts, but sometimes we figure it out and a cool God thing gets opened up for us and hopefully other churches. So let me catch you up on our latest strategy.

We know God knows everything, but the Scriptures seem very quiet about specifically mentioning virtual community.  Maybe, you say, because the internet wasn’t around? Although scripture is silent, history and biblical context gives us some perspective. History shows us that whenever technological advancement happens, when it was used rightly, the Gospel spreads (i.e. the printing press, telephone, television, smart phone, etc). However, none of those technological advancements stretched our thinking of redefining community like the internet.

Biblical community is clearly done in the first century “face to face”. The “one another’s” throughout scripture clearly need “another”. Are virtual small groups a STEP in the process for biblical community or can they BE biblical community? It…

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While it might seem more than a little outside my usual content area, I found a lot to really love in Dreaming of More for the Next Generation: Lifetime Faith Ignited by Family Ministry.  New from Michelle Anthony, RockHarbor Church’s Family Ministry Architect, Dreaming of More grabbed my attention from the first few pages.

One of the aspects of Dreaming of More that grabbed my attention away is that this is a book written by a practitioner, a seasoned veteran of children’s ministry, who arrived at the 12 year mark and at the moment when many would begin doing workshops and conferences on how to do it…dreamed of more.

I loved this account because Anthony saw the fruit of 12 years and instead of settling for the status quo, went back to the drawing board on a quest to discover a better solution.  What developed was a family ministry concept that I think you’re going to find compelling no matter what strategy or system you’re currently using.

Chapter two establishes the foundational ideas of family ministry; what Anthony refers to as the seven pillars of…

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By Brett Eastman

The Bible says “Pray to the Lord of the Harvest”.  We are all called to be shepherds and to impact the lives of others.  I don’t do this as often as I should, but this a challenge for all Christians.  There are many simple ways for people to grow as a shepherd.  The number one thing you can do as a leader is modeling.  The fact that you show up is the number one training instrument in the church in America.  Do you realize that?  Just the fact that you show up and don’t act like the Bible answer person, that you’re genuine and authentic and reflect God’s love.  Each week you show up, and if they don’t show up, you call them.  You’re modeling the functional role of a shepherd.

Another way in a small group to shepherd another is to rotate leadership.  This is one of the most strategic things you can do to help develop shepherds in a circle that you’re in, and help to take a load of responsibility off of you.  It’ll be a heck of a lot more fun too, rotating the leadership.  One…

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Ever wonder what’s next in grouplife?  Have any ideas?

In 1996 I heard about an experiment at Willow Creek called a Taste of Community.  Knowing only a little bit about it, I held a connecting event and sorted attendees out by the style of music they listened to.  Seriously.  It actually worked.

I remember first hearing about something at Saddleback called a small group connection.  You should’ve seen the look on my boss’s face at Fellowship of The Woodlands when I wanted to try it.

“Let me get this straight.  You get a bunch of people to come to an event.  You group them by affinity…around tables…and they have a conversation…and at the end of the event they choose their own leader by pointing on the count of three?  Right….”

Over the next 15 months we connected over 1500 people into 120 new groups using the connection.  Amazing, huh?

I remember arguing with Brett Eastman about the host strategy.  ”How could it possibly be better than the small group connection?”  Of course, when we launched over 250 new small groups in the fall of 2002 with…

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