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Book Review: Small Groups with Purpose

Title: Small Groups with Purpose
Author: Steve Gladen
Genre: Small Group Ministry
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This review has been a long time coming here on the blog. So let’s jump in. This one was a blast to read and just as fun to review. So Let’s run it through the grid.

The book
Small Groups with Purpose is a well put together overview of small group ministry in a local church context. Author Steve Gladen is the pastor of Saddleback Church’s small group community, the largest small group ministry in the U.S., and has been in that role for several years. The tone of this book is a balance between a training manual on how to do group ministry and stories of God’s faithfulness and goodness there at saddleback and around the country in groups ministries Steve is connected to. The book is organized into 4 simple sections that move one from what a healthy group is all the way to implementing a small group ministry into your local church. Now, at 235 pages the book can feel a little overwhelming to crack. That said, I read this book in it’s early stages and feel like Steve did a phenomenal job revising and working to make so much strong content as accessible as possible.


The Good

Simple Biblical Foundation
Steve worked hard to establish a simple, biblical vision for discipleship that he then fleshes out throughout the book. Discipleship is living out the great commandment and the great commission. It’s that simple. He does explain how this plays out in the “five purposes” they use at Saddleback, notably in the first section. This is helpful to see it move from rhetoric to action.

Executable Principles
Often in a ministry type book that communicates good strong biblical foundations, it can get away from ground level steps a group leader can use to enhance his or her group life. Steve gets all the way down to issues like worship in group, creating a gameplan for group life and even group member spiritual health assessments. To that end, section 3 “Step-by-Step, How Can I do This?” is a great section. Listen, this is why I put this at the top of my list for anyone looking to start a small group ministry.

Answering the Sunday School Question
I appreciate Steve taking the dive into the perceived small group vs Sunday school question. As Steve acknowledges, this is a false dilemma as groups and Sunday school are not enemies, but different models after the same thing. So the question for your church is “Where do you want to go?” then decide what model helps you get there. I’m grateful to see this in writing in what will be such a widely influential book.

The Bad

Purpose Driven Flavor
I am deeply grateful for the commitment the Saddleback team has given to executing their strategy laid out in the “five purposes.” I am also grateful for God granting Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life and subsequent books such influence worldwide. That said, I question how much the “purpose” brand will still carry weight with the next generation of church leaders. While we definitely stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us, we are not going to be tied to one church model. I think Steve’s content stands on its own without needing to be an explicitly “purpose” branded resource. I hope any who would be turned away by that will heed this post and move past that to be helped by a great resource

That’s pretty much it.

On the front of the book is the statement “how to create healthy communities.” I think Steve delivered on that promise in this book. And so, in the Small Group Ministry Genre, this book gets 5 out of 5 stars.

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