How to Increase the Health of Your Sunday School

May 29, 2010

by Steve Gladen

After the number of responses from last month’s article, Small Groups Versus Sunday School, I decided to dedicate the next two months to this important issue of Sunday School and small groups. This month I will discuss how you can bring health to your small groups. Next month, I will be discussing the question, How can I add small groups to my Sunday School church?

Once your church has decided how to define a healthy follower of Christ (for Saddleback it is someone balancing the Great Commission and Great Commandment in their heart—fellowship, discipleship, service, evangelism and worship), then there are some practical steps you can take to help your Sunday school class maximize health. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Strategically set up your room. Use round tables with participants facing one another instead of the traditional classroom setting with everyone facing the teacher.  Using round tables accomplishes two things. First, it will facilitate stronger discussion through since people will be face to face. Second, it will help you indentify a table leader if you don’t already have table leaders identified. If your church can’t afford round tables, just set your chairs up in circles or horseshoes (open end of the horseshoe to the front of the classroom).
  2. Understand ratios. If your class size is over ten people, then you will need to start thinking about who can help you build health into class members. If one of your goals is to know the spiritual health of each person in your class, and then encourage them to take their spiritual next step; realistically you can’t know and follow up on each person. Raise table leaders or people who have a passion for discipleship to help you encourage everyone to grow.
  3. Build consistency at the table. Once you set your room in tables, circles of chairs, or horseshoes, you will start to see people sitting with the same folks. Encourage that so they can get to know one another. When a group of new people come into the class, start a new table. People will not dive beneath the surface level conversation and feel safe enough to share what’s really going on in their lives unless they build authentic relationships with one another. This will only happen over time.
  4. Set the table for evangelism and it will build attendance accountability. First, if your tables or circles seat eight, don’t fill the table full of eight people. Fill it with five or six and ask class members who they could invite to fill the table. Also, once you are seated in smaller circles, attendance accountability is a natural by-product. Why? When a group of six is sitting together it is pretty hard to not notice when someone is missing! This will build an organic accountability through your classroom.
  5. Know your sheep; help your sheep know themselves. Plan a time for everyone to take the Spiritual Health Assessment and build a Personal Health Plan.  When your class members take the Spiritual Health Assessment, they will see which biblical purpose (Fellowship, Discipleship, Ministry, Evangelism and Worship) is their strength and which area they need to grow in. Then, table members can help each other to build an individual planner to help class members grow in their spiritual formation.
  6. Build spiritual accountability. Once people have identified areas in their life that need growth, have them pair up with someone who will help them by asking the question, “Did you accomplish what you set out to do?” This check up should be done as a natural part of the relationship. No set time, but the question should happen at least monthly. The Sunday school teacher and the table leader don’t need to know “what” everyone is working on, just that everyone has a “who” that is checking in with them.
  7. Develop ownership. Have those who are strong in a purpose, help your class in that area. If someone is strong in the area of Fellowship, they can help keep track of birthdays and anniversaries around your table or help your class plan social events. If someone is strong in Discipleship, give them the responsibility of making sure everyone at the table (or the entire class) has created a Spiritual Health Plan and has someone in their life asking the question in number 6. Or people who are strong in the area of Discipleship may even want to help with the teaching time. See these recourses to help you build the purposes in your class (See 250 Big Ideas for Purpose Driven Small Groups and Don’t Lead Alone). Also when your class works on each area, they help individuals grow in the area they were weak. If you are weak in the area of evangelism and your class as a whole does an evangelism project, then that will help you grow.
  8. Know your limits. Realize what you can do in the class time and what needs to be done outside of class hour. Generally in a Sunday school hour you can you can only do discipleship. You can do some fellowship and maybe you can take a class hour to only do worship. Here is the key, though. You can’t and shouldn’t do all the purposes in your Sunday school hour. Instead, determine what you can do during class time and have tables or a group of tables work together to do a purpose outside of class time. Release your people to develop themselves. If you keep everything in the classroom, you will suppress creativity and the Holy Spirit!
  9. Think transformation, not just information. Sunday school originally started in England to teach literacy to children on Sunday because they worked in the factory Monday through Friday, sometimes through Saturday. Thus, Sunday School. Over time, biblical teaching was added and, eventually, the secular teachings were dropped as Labor laws were created and enforced and public school education became a part of life. Once you understand the roots of a movement, you can see why so much emphasis is placed on “teaching”. Teaching is not a bad thing, but just as time brought biblical education and secular education fell away, another phase needs to be added to round out the missing piece of discipleship or spiritual formation—application.
  10. Don’t under-estimate the power of discussion. When you give people time for discussion, you are helping them work through the biblical teaching. Once you have set the truth, let them chew on it. Discussion gives class members the opportunity to talk through issues and create their own plan with input from others. Accountability starts to form between class members (whether they realize it or not). Your greatest challenge as a teacher is to give your class time to discuss and own the principles you have taught. I would work on a 60/40 format – 60% teaching and 40% time to apply it.

Join me next month as I discuss how you can add small group to your Sunday School church.

Steve Gladen is the founder of the PDSGN and the Pastor of Small Group Community at Saddleback Church. His website is

Small Groups versus Sunday School?

May 5, 2010

by Steve Gladen

If the goal is to teach the Word of God and apply the Great Commission and Great Commandment, does it matter if your people meet in a church classroom or living room?

The debate over Sunday School versus Small Groups continues. Each side debates the merits of their system, while pointing out the “flaws” in the other system. I often overhear the question, “Does your church have Sunday School or Small Groups?” The question is often a veiled way of asking, “Is your church a traditional one that is stuck in the rut of Sunday Schools?” The common notion is that Sunday School is a system that traditional churches cling to, while more modern and progressive churches move toward small groups. The truth, however, is not that simple or clear cut. Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages. More important than the “system” used, is the desired result – spiritual growth and health.

Before you decide on using Sunday school and/or small groups as a delivery system for health, make sure you understand what health is. Once you know what type of attributes you want to see in a follower of Christ, then you can develop a delivery system to align with your purpose and your church’s culture. At Saddleback, we believe a healthy follower is someone who is balancing the Great Commission and the Great Commandment in their heart and life. We believe the best way to do that is through small groups. That doesn’t mean, however, that you cannot use Sunday School to produce healthy followers of Christ.

The first two churches I worked at (one as an intern and one as a staff member) were Sunday school only churches. The next two churches I worked at combined Sunday school and small groups. My last church and Saddleback Church are totally driven by small groups. At each church there were pros and cons to their delivery systems. Looking back, regardless of the delivery system, I realize the most important thing is to know why you have small groups or Sunday School. Many churches have Sunday School or small groups simply because that is what they have always done. They have given little thought to their desired result, and whether the particular system they are using is the most productive for achieving that desired result.

It’s the same reason churches have a mid week services or Sunday night service.  It’s not about strategy, but it is how we have always done it.  It is important that you understand me clearly on this; small groups, Sunday school, midweek service, and Sunday night service in and of themselves are not bad. However, absent of a strategic purpose, they could be consuming resources, time, and energy. Worse yet, they may be working against your stated purpose, and as such, they may be confusing your people.

Everyone in your church has 168 hours a week to give. The world is competing with you for those hours. The church is only going to get so many of those hours. With this full realization, ask yourself, what is the best use of your peoples’ time? What would be most effective in making them a follower of Christ?

As a small group proponent (which, by the way, does not mean I am against Sunday School), I receive all kinds of questions about Sunday School and Small Groups. During a recent email exchange with Rick Howerton and Mike May they also shared some of the questions they often hear. Rick Howerton is Small Group-ologist/Specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources. He is also a member of the Purpose Driven Small Group Network. His church, The Bridge, is located in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Mike May is our PDSGN State Point Person for the state of Mississippi. He is also the Education Pastor for First Baptist Church in Brandon, Mississippi, a Sunday School church. Below is a list of some of those questions the three of us commonly hear.

Are small groups replacing Sunday School? Small groups and Sunday school don’t have to be enemies of each other.  They can work together if they are aligned to what you want in producing a follower of Christ.  It is true, however, that there is a general trend away from Sunday School and toward small groups. Here are a few reasons churches are making the switch.

First – churches need their parking lot emptied for the next service that is starting.  Churches that have multiple services and also hold Sunday School during those services are usually struggling with finding places for their people to park. Attending one service, and then attending Sunday School afterward (or before) can tie up a parking space for two service times. If parking spaces are limited, this is a real problem. Without a place to park, new people can’t come to church.

Second – for sheer economics. Sunday School requires classrooms. Your Sunday School attendance will always be limited to the number of seats you can provide. It often comes to a point where the money that is being spent on classrooms might be better spent elsewhere in the community or the church. Small groups meet in homes, so space is never an issue for the church.

Third – people often cannot give you two to three hours in one shot. Time is often our most precious commodity. With more demands on your peoples’ time, giving you a Sunday school and church service at the same time often just won’t work. It is easier for them to attend a small group later in the week on another day than to “tie up” their entire Sunday morning.

Lastly – By providing Sunday school as your only means of developing people to be a follower of Christ, you are giving people two options—take it or leave it. In a culture full of options and diverse schedules, people are looking for more options from their church too.

What about Sunday night service or the Wednesday night service becoming times for small groups? This may be a good starting point because your culture may have developed these times for people to set aside for church, but the power of small groups is ability to pick the day and time that serves group members best. When you pick the times and days, you limit one of the strengths of using small groups as a means to deliver health.

Should you replace the name “Sunday School” with an alternative name? If you are going to do a facelift on your current structure and format, then a new name communicates something has changed.  However, if you put a new name on similar structure and format, you will only damage your relationship and credibility with the people attending your church. Your people aren’t dumb. You need to do more than change a name for them to believe real change has taken place.

Isn’t Sunday School lecture-based while small groups focus on discussion and application? Although most people see the two delivery systems in this context, it doesn’t have to be that way. Without the right strategy, a small group or Sunday School can be nothing but a lecture from the leader. You need both Biblical truths and application. People need a chance to learn and interact with each other as they apply these truths to their lives. If you are just providing lecture-based content, you are in danger of merely repeating what happens on the weekend. With the internet, lectured-based content is easy to come by. Most Christians know far more than they put into application.  Make sure you have a good balance in your strategy.

What do we do with the kids if we go to small groups? This is one of the greatest challenges of the small group movement. Not impossible to overcome, but a plan is needed. Where Sunday school has this issue very well taken care of, small groups with children need a POA, plan of attack! Here are a few suggestions:

Exchange childcare with another small group. For example, their group meets on Mondays and yours meets on Wednesdays. While some of your group members provide childcare on Mondays, some of their group members provide childcare on Wednesdays.

Work with the Youth Ministry to make childcare for small groups a serving opportunity.

Bring a babysitter to the group meeting and split the cost of childcare among members.

Have group members take turns “stepping out” of the group to watch the kids in another part of the house. Don’t have a couple ever go out together, but use two same sex spouses so at least one of the spouses is getting group time and getting to know another spouses during childcare.

If two group members live relatively close to one another, ask a babysitter to watch the kids at one house while the group meets at another.

Can Sunday School and small groups co-exist in the same church? You bet! Sunday School and small groups can co-exist as long as they are aligned and not competing with each other. This same potential for “competing” can happen with affinities such as Men’s, Women’s, Couples, and Singles ministries in your church. If it is not aligned with your delivery systems to create healthy followers of Christ, then any program can  deter the effectiveness of your church. So, make sure your Sunday school and small group vision, mission and strategy are working on the same process and not building walls between the two. I would suggest that the two ministries report to the same person.

Can I our church members attend Sunday School class and a small group? Sure…as long as they have the margin. Some people fill their schedules with lots of church activities, but are not growing spiritually healthy. Make sure they are not just being busy, but developing their spiritual health.

If doing both Sunday School and small groups, should church members be expected to attend both? Absolutely not! You want to take them deep not wide. The reason they are attending either is to develop community which serves as the foundation for holistic discipleship. I would be more concerned that they are living out the Great Commission and Great Commandment in their lives than whether they are attending every event the church offers.

What differentiates a Sunday School class from a small group? Location and title. Other than that, both delivery systems should be aligned to the same principles. The methodologies will be different, but the “end in mind” should be the same. Of course, this may vary from church to church.

What characteristics do small group leaders need to exhibit that Sunday School teachers do not (and visa versa)? Depending on how you define what you want to see in a follower of Christ, the primary function of both the Sunday School leader and the small group leader is to understand where each student/member is in their spiritual walk, and then encourage that person to take their next spiritual step. Whether that is happening in a small group or a Sunday School class, the leader needs to always be thinking about how to move their people along their spiritual journey. Once the leader understands that, then their particular gift set can be used in either a Sunday School class or a small group. The secondary function should be to teach and apply the five biblical purposes found in the Great Commission and Great Commandment. By doing this you sharpen the strengths of students/members and develop their weak areas.

Will starting a small group ministry weaken a pre-existing Sunday School? If so, why? If not, why not? When people were debating whether baseball should be televised on this new invention called Television, the naysayers were worried if people watched baseball on TV, then they wouldn’t come to the ballpark. As history proved, this thinking was faulty. The same applies to this question. Having both gives you more opportunities to develop people and reduce the excuses for not doing one or the other. There is strength in alignment and not fearing the other delivery system.  If they are both producing the same “end” it should not matter which they choose. Think about it, a new person doesn’t come to church bent on doing a small group or Snday school, they just want their needs met and grow spiritually. Only you are hung up on Sunday School or small groups.

We have a good Sunday School at our church, why should we start a small group ministry? If it is in the culture and leadership to do it, yes. This will give more people more options to grow as Christ followers and develop leadership skills. If you are thinking about starting a small group ministry, read my recent article entitled, Things to Think About Before Starting a Small Group Ministry. LINK  We are all on the same team, we all have the same game plan – to bring as many people to Christ as possible and develop them into the likeness of Christ. Why not do it in whatever way works best for your church and your culture?

If you are a Sunday school proponent reading this article, congratulations on having an open mind! The chances are, if you have an adult Sunday school, your delivery system for that church is settled; at least for now. No matter the delivery system, the key is to understand what you want to see in the life of a follower of Christ, and guiding your leaders toward achieving that desired result.

I recently received an email from Terry Hadaway who led one of our Community U Conference workshops. Terry is the Small Groups Pastor at Long Hollow Church which has three locations just north of Nashville, Tennessee. He has developed a resource that may be of interest to those of you who are looking at improving your Sunday School or transitioning from Sunday School to Small Groups.

OK, so leading the session on moving from Sunday School to Small Groups at the recent Community U Conference has resulted in me being bombarded with questions from people who are in traditional Sunday School churches. Most of them are “how to” questions that I love answering. I just wish I knew the answers. So, because offering solutions is part of my DNA, I developed a place for people to go where they can interact with others who are in the same boat.
Go to and check out what I’ve done. I basically have created a community in which we can interact with one another by posting questions, blog entries, helpful links, etc. Once registered, you can customize your home page so that the info that interests you is there.

I hope Terry’s website can be of use to you as you continue to explore options for your church.

Join me next month as I continue the discussion on Sunday School and Small Groups.

Steve GladenSteve Gladen is the Pastor of Small Group Community and Founder of the Purpose Driven Small Group Network.

Technology and Community

March 24, 2010

by Reid Smith

Can technology help Small Group Ministry Point Leaders build community? Do you see it as something that enhances or competes with what you do?

If you’re hesitant, skeptical, or even curious – wondering how to use technology to grow biblical community – then I hope this article will help you envision possibilities of what you could do using tools that have never been available until now.

Today, there are more people connected online than ever before. The use of technology is on the rise all around the world. Each new generation uses more types of technology to communicate and connect. Yesterday’s technology – such as the cell phone or computer – is today’s tool, and churches that don’t use the tools of technology become increasingly irrelevant as the years go by.

Take a look at some of these statistics about the influence of technology on our culture and communication:

  1. Social networking now accounts for 11 percent of all time spent online in the US. Both social networking leader Facebook and Twitter both posted triple-digit growth in ’09.
  2. Nearly four out of five US Internet users visited a social networking site in December 2009 (according to comScore’s “The 2009 U.S. Digital Year in Review”)
  3. By 2010 Gen Y will outnumber Baby Boomers….96% of them have joined a social network
  4. Years to Reach 50 millions Users: Radio (38 Years), TV (13 Years), Internet (4 Years), iPod (3 Years)…Facebook added 100 mil users in less than 9 months…iPhone applications hit 1 bil in 9 mos.
  5. Facebook claims that 50% of active users log into the site each day. This would mean at least 175m users every 24 hours… A considerable increase from the previous 120m.
  6. If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s 4th largest between the United States & Indonesia
  7. Twitter now has 75m user accounts, but only around 15m are active users on a regular basis. An increase from the estimated 6-10m global users from a few months ago.
  8. LinkedIn has over 50m members worldwide. This means an increase of around 1m members month-on-month since July/August last year. % of companies using LinkedIn as a primary tool to find employees….80%
  9. 1 out of 8 couples married in the U.S. last year met via social media
  10. 2009 US Department of Education study revealed that on average, online students out performed those receiving face-to-face instruction. An increasing number of accredited institutions are increasing their online options in the face of the present economic downturn.
  11. 1 in 6 higher education students are enrolled in online curriculum
  12. 80% of Twitter usage is on mobile devices…people update anywhere, anytime. 25% of Americans in the past month said they watched a short video…on their phone.
  13. Generation Y and Z consider e-mail passé…In 2009 Boston College stopped distributing e-mail addresses to incoming freshmen
  14. 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations
  15. In the near future we will no longer search for products and services they will find us via social media

There are a lot of benefits to using technology to build community. But there are challenges as well. Although I believe technology can be used to magnify the ministry & mission of the Church, I don’t believe it satisfies every dimension of human need and communication like human touch. But it comes pretty close.

I’ve tried to outline what I see as some of the benefits and challenges of using technology to enhance people’s experience of community:

You’re reading this article now because you’re using technology to connect. You’ve probably shared resources and insights with those you lead because of content that was disseminated by today’s technological tools. Just as a microphone amplifies the speaker’s message so technology can amplify the experience of community. Social media, for example, can be leveraged in ways that can exponentially increase meaningful contacts and those we reach with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Web 2.0 is a term that describes the trend of Internet usage and design that seeks the enhancement of creativity and collaboration among users. If you’re a Christ-follower who wants to maximize their missional impact, you’ve got to be 2.0. Explore today’s technological tools and seek to influence the millions of people immersed in the new social phenomenon of today’s online community.

Local churches and parachurch organizations must continue developing partnerships to advance The Great Commission and social networking is critical to that process. Leadership and social circles must overlap and interact for effective Kingdom collaboration. The more this happens, the more leaders can use the influence God has given to them to advance His purposes on earth. Here are some online tools that can help in this process (unless otherwise noted, all tools below are “.com”):

  • Social Networking = Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Wisestamp (to create signature block)
  • Video-chat/conferencing = Skype, Tokbox, Wetoku, Google
  • Autosend text-msging =jarbyco or tatango // text from computer = 3jam
  • Automated msging service = freeconferencecall or call-em-all
  • Evite = evite, mypunchbowl (create audio postcard from phone & send via comp w/yodio)
  • Public/Private Blogging = blogger, wordpress
  • Audio / Video podcasts (Flip video) > embed into blogs
  • Streaming = ustream or livestream
  • Find/Start a group = meetup
  • Online project collaboration = google docs, campfirenow
  • Email blast (html) = mailchimp, contact
  • Video/File/Photo-sharing = YouTube, Flickr, PhotoBucket,
  • Bible Study & Discussion = YouVersion

(See this month’s Resources For You for links to sites mentioned)

Read Luke 15 and let me ask you these questions: If the shepherd in Jesus’ parable (vv. 3-7) could have viewed satellite images that would have helped him locate his lost sheep, do you think he would have used the technology? If the woman in Jesus’ parable (vv. 8-10) had a metal detector to help find her lost coin, do you think she would have used the technology? If the father in Jesus’ parable (vv. 11-32) had social media to reconnect with his lost son, do you think he would have used the technology?

Leaders are learners. The more unwilling you are to learn, the less influence you will have. (I think the opposite is true as well.) Leaders are missional – they’re the first to engage in search & rescue. They’re the early adopters of anything they think will help to reach ‘one more’. This is the heart of one who desires to spend their life so that some might be saved (1 Corinthians 9:22-23). This is the heart of our Heavenly Father who remains on the lookout for the one who has yet to come home. I believe this evidences itself in a willingness to reach out in new ways, search in new places, and to use new tools.

Reid Smith is the Community Life Pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He is also the  PDSGN Area Point Leader for the state of Florida.

Twelve Tips for a Successful Campaign

March 24, 2010

by Steve Gladen

A lot of people have written about our Campaign Strategy, but let me give you look behind the curtain. Having lived through nine Campaigns (running point on five) in my twelve years as Small Group Pastor here at Saddleback Church, I have discovered a strategy is only as good as the foundation and follow-through. As they say, the devil is in the details. When you do one of our Saddleback Church Campaigns (found at, it comes with full instructions on how to do the Campaign from start to finish. The instructions explain what type of teams you need to develop, and provides a calendar timeline and training DVD’s.

A Church Wide Campaign is an exponential experience for a church. It can be exponentially positive or negative, depending on how you approach it. Based on my experience, and a few battle scars, here are twelve tips to ensure a positive outcome.

  1. What’s the compelling question? When you do a Campaign, you need to know question the Campaign will answer. To give you an example, for our 40 Days of Purpose Campaign the question was “What on earth am I here for?” The compelling question gives your people a reason to join a small group and attend the corresponding weekend services. It provides your small group leaders with motivation to invite others into their small group. Without a compelling question, the congregation won’t understand the central theme or the reason for the Campaign.
  2. Align Children, Student and Adult ministries. A lot of churches that do a Campaign miss the alignment by only doing it for the adults. When your children and student ministries memorize the same scriptures, are reading similar themes, doing projects together and listening to the same weekend message, everyone is on the same page. Discussions naturally flow into the home from parent to child and child to parent.
  3. Stick to the principles and apply your own methodologies. As it goes for the Children, Student and Adult ministries—so it goes from church to church. When aligning your Campaigns for children and students you need to adapt the material to their learning level. So if the adults are memorizing a scripture, the children may learn part of the same scripture instead of the whole scripture—because that is appropriate for their level. The same principle needs to be applied to your entire church. Weekend messages need to be adapted to your church context and culture. Small group questions can be adapted to your needs. If there is a church-wide project or small group project it should serve your particular church and community. If your church has a strong presence in the homeless community, for example, then stay true to your culture and serve those same people with your Campaign projects.
  4. Language matters. One of the most significant things we learned through recruiting for our Campaigns was language matters! Campaign material is delivered through small groups, so it is vital that you have plenty of people ready to “lead” a small group. When we asked for Lay Pastors, that didn’t work well because people didn’t feel they were pastors. We then changed the term to Shepherd Leaders, which failed because they didn’t connect with the term “shepherd”. Next we tried Small Group Leader, but nobody wanted to be the leader due to perceived inadequacies or lack of time. Then we asked for H.O.S.T.’s. We told people, if you have a Heart for people, are willing to Open your home, can serve a Snack and Turn on a DVD player; then you can host a group of people. All of a sudden, we had plenty of volunteers! Interestingly enough, we never changed the duties of a small group leader, just the language. It was enough. All of the preconceived notions of what it takes to be a “leader” just fell away. If a Host continues with the group after the Campaign, then we enter them into our Small Group Leadership Development Pathway This pathway then provides them with the relationships and resources to nurture and build their leadership skills.
  5. Employ various avenues of learning. The Campaign Strategy takes a common theme and helps people learn that theme through different learning styles. People learn through listening to the weekend services. People learn through discussing topics in their small groups. People learn through doing hands-on projects. People learn through memorizing scripture. And people learn through reading as they work through the Campaign materials in their small groups.
  6. Once a year is enough. I am a college football fan. As much as I love the college football season and hate to see it come to an end, there is something about the wait and anticipation of the next season. If college football was off for a month and then back on, it wouldn’t be as good from month to month (because players couldn’t prepare) and when the fall season would come, I would not be looking forward to it. It is the same way with Campaigns. When you do too many Campaigns in a year, two things happen, your volunteers who pulled it off, won’t be able to manage doing another Campaign so soon and your congregation won’t experience the anticipation of an upcoming event. At Saddleback we do one Campaign a year and trust me, we all feel that yearly Campaign comes around very quickly!
  7. Provide a clear start and end date. Our Campaigns last forty days. This is a short enough commitment that most people are willing to make it, but long enough to instill good habits. When you have a clear start and end date, it gives people an end in sight and they are more willing to come along for the ride.
  8. Expect high intensity for staff, volunteers, and members. The secret of a successful Campaign is sustaining high intensity for forty days and then backing off to allow staff and volunteers time to recover and giving members time to process the experience. Let your church calendar return to what it was and give your small groups time to stabilize. For a Campaign to happen successfully you must clear the calendar for the duration of that Campaign. You need to stop programs and events that could be distracting. Sometimes “good” programs can stop “great” things from happening in a Campaign. Also, with a Campaign comes the beginning of many new groups. After the Campaign you need time to assess where those groups are at. Some will continue and some will stop. But without the margin and infrastructure to check in on these groups, you will start a lot of groups and lose the same amount.
  9. Remember and celebrate! So often the church does a great job of recruiting and getting the job done, but a terrible job celebrating a job well done. After the Campaign, be sure to hold a celebration and express your gratitude for all of the hard work done by staff and volunteers. Take time to remember and celebrate God’s work. Share stories of success and gratitude. When you don’t take the time to celebrate, you are increasing the possibility of burnout in your staff and volunteers. In the Bible we read of many instances when God had people stop and remember the miracles He did. Why? Because He knew people would forget. When you celebrate, you etch God’s work on your people’s heart. Often we give little reminders such as key chains so when people see them, they will be reminded of that God movement. Help your people remember and celebrate the Campaign they put so much time and energy into!
  10. Understand the Delivery System—small groups.
    > At Saddleback we have two delivery systems, weekend services and small groups. Acts 5:42 gives us that one. It is a two punch system to help people not just learn, but also apply the word of God. Our small groups are the delivery system of all the components of the campaign. Group life is not optional at Saddleback. It is vital.
    > We use a funnel to depict the strategy behind how we apply the five biblical purposes throughout the church. The weekend service establishes the five biblical purposes through the preaching of the word. The CLASS system explains the five biblical purposes.
    > Small groups give people the opportunity to experience the five biblical purposes. The life of the indivdual (a Purpose Driven Life) express the purposes. The small groups are the application process of your church. They take information and turn it into transformation.
    > You need have an infrastructure in place. An infrastructure helps your new groups not go it alone. You don’t have to be an expert, just one step ahead of that new small group leader. At Saddleback we have Community Leaders who oversee new small groups. What do they do? Simple, just check in on them and offer encouragement and prayer. For a new group in the Campaign, they don’t need a lot; but they do need encouragement and prayer. The DVD curriculum provides the material, but the Community Leader gives the moral support.
    > A Leadership Development Pathway needs to be in place. Your small group hosts/leaders need to know where you want them to go. If they continue to lead, what will be their journey and final destination? Not providing clear direction is like asking someone to come over to your house and only giving them a city, not the address. They have enough information to get to the general area, but not enough to get to the intended destination. Churches sometimes give their small groups the same type of vague direction.
    > When we did the 40 Days of Community we assigned groups to do a project together. We discovered a group that does a project together, regardless of what the project is, builds a bond in those group members that holds a group together. In 40 Days of Purpose we had 68% retention rate of small groups that started. In 40 Days of Community, with a project to do, our group retention rate went to 86%. Were there other factors? I’m sure there were. But clearly, having a project to do was a big one.
    > Give your groups a next step. Before you let a group get through a Campaign, have them make a decision on what their next step will be. Will they continue or part ways? Around week four of the six week Campaign, we encourage groups to determine what their next study will be. We give them curriculum suggestion and encourage them to get the new material as soon as possible. Very often, just avoiding “down time” can make the difference in whether a group continues or not.
  11. Give people an “out” after the Campaign is finished. Chances are, even those who drop out will eventually be back in a small group. In a Campaign you need to give people permission to stop their group. I know this feels counterintuitive, but it will serve you. Now, let me be clear, I want them to continue and I want to give them every possible reason to stay together; but on the other hand I don’t want them to feel guilt if their group doesn’t continue. Why? Because when they do what you have asked, you need to reward them and thank them, not pour on guilt for not continuing. I have learned when you give people permission to stop meeting at the end of the Campaign, they will be there for the next Campaign. And during the next Campaign, they just might stay with that next group!
  12. Budget to remove financial obstacles. When we do a Campaign, we pay for everything. We provide the devotional reading books, memory key tags, prayer guides, small group DVDs and small group study guides to anyone who joins a small group. If people commit to a small group we give them everything to make a spiritual impact on them—they just need to join a small group to get them. It’s a lot of money up front, but brings huge dividends on the back side. Invest in your church. It shows your people you not only care about them, but you are also willing to put your money where your heart is.

Steve GladenSteve Gladen is the Pastor of Small Group Community at Saddleback Church and the founder of the Purpose Driven Small Group Network.

Ten Things to Think About Before Starting a Small Group Ministry

February 25, 2010

by Steve Gladen

Are you starting a small group ministry, or are you thinking of retooling an existing small group ministry? Here are some points you might want to consider before moving ahead.

  1. Know where you are headed. When you look at a believer, a follower of Christ in your church, what is it you want them to look like, act like, “be”?  Too many start a small group ministry because it’s the thing to do.  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 a follower of Christ to balance the Great Commission and Great Commandment in their heart.  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.  See for our Spiritual Health Assessment.  What do you want?  Once we knew our “end in mind”, we asked the question – what would get us there?  Our answer, Acts 5:42…Weekend Services and Small Groups.
  2. Find the lay of the land in your church. Talk to people.  Talk to key opinion leaders in your church—don’t know them…ask!  Get the people who made the church and go through step one above.  Find the history of the church and the passion that made your church what it is today.  What’s the heartbeat of your Lead Pastor?  What makes them tick?  What is their strategy to number one?  Before you ask any of these questions, ask yourself, do I have the relational capitol to ask these questions.  If you do, great!  If you don’t, take the time to get to know the people you are asking these questions of.  Relationships take time.  Sometimes you will find the answers to the questions without asking the question.
  3. Who will run point? Paid or not paid isn’t the question—passion is the question.  Who has the passion for the people to be the healthiest followers of Christ in your church?  Who has the passion to build a delivery system to handle the people God will send your way?  Who has what Psalms 78:72 describes in David?  Who has the humility of knowing it’s not “them” but “God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)?  Who is willing to do “whatever” (John 10:10) with the right attitude (1 Peter 5:2-4)?  Who is “called” and willing to learn?
  4. Who’s on the team? Every leader needs a team.  If you were to start a business you would get your “C” team together…CEO, COO, CIO, CSO, CTO, etc.  Who is your “C” team, your Christ Team to make this happen with His grace and strength?  Start praying for people who want to see the same thing you want to see and who have different gifts sets than you.  Then, ask.  People won’t volunteer. You need to ask them.  Claim back some of their 168 hours a week for Kingdom work.  For some, you may need to align their Kingdom work for greater Kingdom efforts.
  5. What will be your strategy? At Saddleback Church the greatest way to start a small group ministry is through a Campaign Strategy.  Now, understand if you don’t do the process outlined above, you will start a bunch of groups, but they will be purposeless and drift.  To learn more about our Campaign Strategy go to Since I have been at Saddleback, this has been our most effective tool for aligning the church and starting small groups.Along with strategy, you need to continually cast vision to drive strategy. Campaign’s are successful because throughout the year our people hear from the pulpit the importance of small groups through testimonies, sermons, commercials, and most importantly through personal stories of the teaching pastors in their sermons. If you are looking for a great way to develop strategy, check out the upcoming April 16/17 Community U conference in Nashville. The prime track is ideal for someone starting or rebooting a small group ministry.
  6. When will you start? Look at the calendar and your church culture.  There are three ideal times to start small groups: fall, January and post Easter.  For Saddleback, fall is the best time for us.  We start our Campaign a few weeks after school starts so families can get into their new routines.  We use the summer to get ready, September to recruit and October to launch.  Your church will have a different schedule, and that’s okay.  Do what culturally fits your church.
  7. What’s your Pathway? When you start groups, your leaders need to know what you want them to do.  Not only do you need to know your “end in mind”; you need the same for your small group leaders.  Just like Jesus took His disciples from “come and see” through a three year relational process to “come and die”; we too have a relational process for our “hosts” to become “leaders”.  Now we pray none of them need to die, but we do want to take them from where they are to a deeper commitment in Christ.  For a peek at our pathway see  Whatever you design, know where you want to take your leaders.
  8. What’s your infrastructure? It’s easy to start groups; it’s hard to sustain them.  Since 1998, our small group team has seen our small groups grow from 280 groups to over 3,500 groups.  That doesn’t happen without infrastructure.  Just like a city needs roadways to develop as a town turns into a city, your small group ministry needs its roadways.  Two critical parts of your infrastructure are Community Leaders (CL’s) who are the leaders of leaders.  They are the relational arm of your ministry.  They provide the care and direction to your small groups.  They help with focus so groups don’t drift.  At Saddleback we have over 180 volunteer CL’s who give their time for the betterment of our small group community.  Another part is “Gatherings”.  Gatherings are the vision arm of your ministry.  A gathering is bringing your leaders together periodically for alignment and vision.  It can be done over dinner or coffee.  At Saddleback we do two Gatherings a year, one in the beginning of the year (to get us out of the holiday funk) and in August (to gear us up for the fall).
  9. Don’t stand alone! The enemy loves to lead in isolation and fear.  Fear stops us from taking risks for the Kingdom.  Isolation cuts off our supply lines so we can’t fight the good fight!  In 2006 God inspired me to start the Purpose Driven Small Group Network so that no one would stand alone.  I know what it’s like to do the day in and day out ministry of running a small group ministry.  I don’t sit in an ivory tower writing things I think might be true, but write out of the 20 years of doing small group ministry in churches of all sizes.  I know what it’s like to be the only one in your church thinking community is the greatest thing since Easter.  I am blessed with an incredible staff.  My prayer is this Network will be your staff, standing with you to help you fight the good fight.  Don’t think you need others around you—think again!  To learn more about this free Network, see
  10. Prepare your heart.  Probably the greatest thing I’ve learned along the way I learned in Seminary.  It’s called the Messiah complex.  It’s where you take on the role of the Messiah and bear everyone’s burdens on your cross.  The problem is, you can’t do it.  You will burn out.  Symptoms are a lack of quiet time and/or Sabbath forgetfulness.  Just as God can take your financial tithe and make 90% go farther than your best 100%; He can do the same with a Sabbath.  He can make 6 days go farther than your best 7 days.  The principle God is working on has nothing to do with finances or time, it’s all about obedience.  If you don’t prepare your heart now, the work FOR God will destroy the work OF God in your life.

To get a greater scope of what I am talking about, check out the DVD Small Group Point Leader Training at  This nine hour DVD goes into greater detail and explains the points above.

Steve GladenSteve Gladen is the Pastor of Small Group Community at Saddleback Church and founder of the Purpose Driven Small Group Network.

Three Steps For Diagnosing Spiritual Health

January 28, 2010

by Steve Gladen

When was the last time you made an appointment with your doctor for a physical examination? Have you avoided it because you thought he might tell you something you wouldn’t want to hear, something like, “You could stand to lose a few pounds,” or maybe, “A little exercise would do you some good,” or “Your cholesterol is looking a bit high, time to cut out the bowl of ice cream before bedtime”.

Like our physical health, our spiritual health needs to be assessed and managed so it can continuously grow and mature into all that God desires it to be.

Getting a picture of spiritual health
So, what does spiritual health look like? At Saddleback Church we believe health is based on living a life that balances the five Biblical purposes of God: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism. Too often we focus on one aspect of health while ignoring the others. For some, spiritual health is measured by having the right answers to theological questions. For others, spiritual health is demonstrated by acts of service. While these are good things, our spiritual life suffers if we do not balance all five of God’s purposes in our lives.

Assessing our spiritual health
In order to help people get a better sense of how well they’re doing this, we put together a tool called The Purpose Driven Spiritual Health Assessment. This self-assessment tool is designed to help a person take a snapshot of his life and see how well he is balancing the five purposes. Our goal is not to measure and score spiritual health.  Rather, we want to provide a starting point from which people can begin to pursue a healthier spiritual life.

The process of balancing the five purposes in our lives takes time and reflection. First, we need to evaluate where we are. Once we have a picture of where we are, we then need to determine where we need to grow by focusing on one or more of the purpose areas.

Once we’ve targeted a specific growth area, we need a plan. By answering the questions under each purpose, the user will see where their strengths are and identify where they need to focus more of their attention for growth.

Another aspect of the tool is the ability to get valuable feedback from a few people that know us best, such as a spouse, a small group member, or a mentor, by having them complete the same assessment on us (called a Friend Feedback Assessment). We don’t always see ourselves as others do. The valuable, godly relationships in our lives can pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses that we may not identify in ourselves.

Setting a plan for growth
After taking the Health Assessment and evaluating where one currently stands in their spiritual journey, it is time to chart a course for personal growth by setting up a Health Plan. The Health Plan is designed to provide a practical next step that a person can take for each of the questions on the assessment. Each of these areas are broken down into what we call a Crawl step (a goal easily attained within 30 days), a Walk step (a goal that stretches you, attainable within 60-90 days), and a Run step (a Holy Spirit-inspired goal). As the user chooses their next step(s) they begin to move progressively toward attaining the growth goals that have been laid out before them.

Applying the tool to small groups
The Health Assessment is not only a great tool designed for individual evaluation, but it can also be used as a small group tool to determine the overall health and balance of a group. Because we are better together, individuals who strive for personal spiritual health make for a stronger foundation when it comes to building the health of a small group.  It is through a lifetime of spiritual practices like utilizing the Spiritual Health Assessment that we begin to develop and live out fulfilled purpose driven lives.

Getting started
I started using the Health Assessment back when we were piloting the tool and assessing the pros and cons, at the close of 1998.  In the years since, the Lord has challenged me in many ways.  I think you’ll find the same challenges if you follow these easy three steps.

First, before you begin to take the Health Assessment, PRAY!  Pray for an open mind to the Holy Spirit and how He wants to use this Health Assessment.  This is not a test you do one time and then move on to something else.  This is a living document that starts with the Health Assessment and has its accountability in the Health Plan.  As D.L. Moody says, “Discipleship is not in the information, but the transformation.”

Secondly, since this is a living document, think in process steps for the Health Plan. What I mean by this is as you put down goals you feel the Lord wants you to improve on, think in the crawl, walk, run frame. Let me give you a personal example. The first year I did the Health Assessment I gave my best shot at the Health Plan. I soon found my goals were so high that I didn’t see progress in the first month. Discouraged, I procrastinated on the very goals I felt the Lord wanted me to grow towards. So through the process of developing my Health Plan I decided to develop a crawl, walk, run version of those same goals to help me see an attainable process of reaching my goals.  It is through this process of intentional “baby steps” that the Lord will move you towards a more balanced spiritual life.

Finally, share your Health Plan with a few trusted people. If no one knows what you have on your Health Plan, it’s easy for you to procrastinate. The devil seeks to defeat our plans by isolating us. But the loving accountability of others will bring great results.

As you start this journey, follow these three easy steps and watch what the Lord will do!

To order the Spiritual Health Assessment click HERE.

Steve Gladen is the Founder of the PDSG Network and Pastor of Small Groups at Saddleback Church.

Can You Spare a Little Grace?

December 10, 2009

Teaching Your Small Group Leaders to Care for E.G.R.s

by Steve Gladen

In the life of any Small Group, there will come a time when the Small Group Leader will have concerns and struggles as to how to handle difficult people within their groups. With many different personalities attending a small group each week, the Small Group Leader must have a firm handle on how to identify and care for each of the personalities within their group. As the Small Group Point Person, it is your job to equip your Small Group Leaders to deal with group members who present special challenges – “E.G.R’s (Extra Grace Required). If not handled properly, an “E.G.R.” can destroy the health (and attendance!) of a small group.

In looking at the issue of how the Small Group Leader can better care for E.G.R.’s, we find the Apostle Paul giving us three distinct  E.G.R. personalities, and the remedies for getting a better handle on ministering and caring for these individuals. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

E.G.R. Type #1 – The Unruly: “Admonish Them…”

The unruly group member seems to have a knack for drawing the life out of every group they attend. Week after week, they use the small group as a therapy couch, lamenting about all of the problems in their lives (which never seem to improve). This type of “E.G.R.” is completely unaware of how much of the small group’s time they are actually consuming. Upon closer observation, the unruly E.G.R. might be most properly labeled as “in need of attention.”

“Unruly” E.G.R. Character Traits

  • Needy
  • Loud
  • Opinionated
  • Controlling
  • Non-repentant
  • Conflict-driven

What the unruly need most is to be challenged.

  1. Understand they are under attack from Satan.
  2. Pray for them for what they could be.
  3. Understand the art of confrontation (one “intensity step” above them).
  4. Attempt to make them an ally (“Help me get others to share as you do.”)
  5. Speak privately about their need to consume the group’s time.
  6. Caution them that continued behavior will result in their dismissal.
  7. Control the time given to each person to share (“All of us will have one minute to share on this issue”).

E.G.R. Type #2 – The Fainthearted: “Encourage Them…”

The fainthearted E.G.R. will most likely resemble the “church mouse” within the setting of their small group. This type of E.G.R. may have recently begun to take spiritual inventory, and are beginning to make life changes in how they think about and view God. They may spend months just attending, listening, and just “taking it all in.” The fainthearted E.G.R. may not be used to relating their faith or praying with other believers. They would feel threatened if the Small Group Leader were to put them “on the spot” to share anything.

“Fainthearted” E.G.R. Character Traits

  • Quiet
  • Timid
  • Wary
  • Guarded (non-transparent)
  • Lacking Self Esteem
  • Under Construction in their Faith
  • Fearful

What the fainthearted need most is to be encouraged.

  1. Pray specifically that God would begin encouraging them to “open up” over time. Until then, be patient.
  2. Understand that God is using the small group to help them reevaluate and draw closer in their faith.
  3. Encourage tenderly that their attendance is “important” and “appreciated.”
  4. Be careful not to put them on the spot during sharing time.
  5. Affirm them tenderly that God is in control of their lives.
  6. Find the one positive thing in their personality and character and build on it.
  7. Affirm them sincerely anytime they share.

E.G.R. Type #3 – The Weak: “Help Them…”

The weak E.G.R. quite often is a person struggling to get “off the mat” in their lives. The storms of life have blown harshly. Many Christian E.G.R.’s in this category may have recently had a death in the family, lost a job, or may have lost it all due to a substance abuse problem. They come to the group bewildered, and wonder if God really cares for them. Many E.G.R.’s in this category are living day-to-day with economic and emotional pressures. If the truth could be known, these E.G.R.’s would tell you that they are just trying to survive. Another E.G.R. in this category would be the non-believer who is attempting to get closer to God, but is finding it increasingly difficult to draw closer because of an addictive, sinful lifestyle.

The “Weak” E.G.R. Character Traits (Christian & Non-Christian)

  • Coming out of tragedy
  • Highly sensitive
  • Barely surviving
  • Faithless
  • In bondage to sinful lifestyle
  • Non-committal
  • Destructive life patterns

Caring for the “Weak” E.G.R.

What they need most is to be carried.

  1. Extra personal touches required (letters, phone calls).
  2. Need to be loved and affirmed.
  3. Never ignore.
  4. Need to be taken by the hand.
  5. Counseled to take life one day at a time.
  6. May need specific guidance.
  7. Good candidate to be the recipient of grace and gifts from the small group.
  8. Extreme levels of patience and understanding.

As the holidays approach, your small group members might be under more stress than usual. Stress can bring out E.G.R. behavior even in the best of us. It is easy to get along with those we like and find a kinship with.  It is harder to love those who don’t “fit”. You need to prepare your Small Group Leaders to deal with these situations ahead of time. Remind them that God has set these people in all of our paths. They are “heavenly sandpaper”.  Most importantly, remind your leaders Christ died for them just as He died for us.

Steve Gladen is the Pastor of Small Group Community at Saddleback Church