More on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway

Today we have the continuation of yesterday’s interview with Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway.  If you’ve ever wondered how Saddleback helps people who simply sign up to host a six-week small group become a full-fledged leader…you’ll find a lot of answers here.  If you missed part one of the interview, you can read it right here.

Here’s Part Two:

Mark: So they’ve moved from the baby steps of a 6 week commitment to a decision to continue, attended a 3 hour course and now are connected with a mentoring community leader.  What happens next?

Steve: The third step along the leadership pathway is Leader Training 2.  This five-module training course is led by the H.O.S.T.’s community leader and is often held in the CL’s home. It focuses on deepening the five purposes in the lives of the leaders and showing them how to balance the purposes within their groups. These five modules can take up to two years to complete.  We don’t want H.O.S.T.s to take the next module until they are actually putting the previous one into practice.  The five modules are:

  • Health—developing discipleship and helping your group and individual group members to be balanced.
  • Character—deepening your heart toward worship.
  • Skills—diving below the surface to understand true community.
  • Empower—helping you do ministry inside your group or with other groups, believer to believer.
  • P.E.A.C.E.—directing your group toward the P.E.A.C.E. Plan, which is our church’s mission arm and is done personally, locally, and globally.

Mark: It’s my understanding that in the same way your coaching structure is designed to provide a kind of customized level of care for each leader, the way Leader Training 2 plays out is different depending on the maturity of the leader.

Steve:  That’s correct.  As H.O.S.T.s enter the Leader Training 2 phase, they start the discipleship module called Health. This them the value of balancing a group in the five biblical purposes. Once they have completed LT2 Health, they proceed down one of two paths. If they are leading a new group, they will focus first on the LT2 modules of Character and Skills, which compliment the new journey they are on. If their group is more seasoned, we direct them toward LT2 Empower and P.E.A.C.E.  These modules are a bit more challenging and designed for the small group with a strong foundation in place.  Once H.O.S.T.s have completed Leader Training 2, they are official leaders.

Mark: So once they’ve completed Leader Training 2 they’ve had quite a journey.  They might’ve invested as much as a couple years in the process.  What happens next?

Steve: The fourth step along the Leadership Pathway is our Gatherings where we show our leaders how much we care about them.  These gatherings also keep them tied to the vision.  Remember, if you have multiple sites (one church in different locations), you can also use Gatherings as a way to unify the sites around the common vision.

Mark: It’s been a great privilege and an honor to have your insight on this, Steve!  Thanks so much for your willingness to contribute your wisdom and knowledge to our growth!

About Steve Gladen: I’ve said this a number of times, but I want to be sure and say this again. Steve is a couple of things. First, he’s one of the smartest GroupLife guys on the planet. He’s also one of the most helpful small group experts on the planet. Seriously. While we’re on the subject, I want to suggest again that all of you pre-purchase Steve’s upcoming book. Here is the link: Small Groups with Purpose and here’s more info about the book.

Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway

In a recent two-part series Steve Gladen talked about Saddleback’s Small Group Coaching strategy.  In that previous series Steve mentioned their Leadership Pathway and I asked him if he’d be willing to provide some insight into the way they help people who have volunteered to simply host a group grow over time into a committed group leader who is truly invested in their members’ spiritual growth.

Mark: We know that many of the small groups that form at Saddleback begin as H.O.S.T. homes during a church-wide campaign.  What does the Leadership Pathway look like at the very beginning?

Steve: To start it’s important to know the philosophical premise of our training.  We see Jesus called the disciples in Matthew 4 with a requirement of “Come and see”.  Three years later in was “Come and die”.  Jesus took them on a pathway that took them from “come and see” to “come and die”.  Slowly letting them see they may bring more to the puzzle than they think.  Most churches start with “come and die” recruiting and scare everyone anyway—no leadership development process is in place.  In our language we want to start with crawl and help them run, not start with run.  Now back to your question.

New H.O.S.T.s often take their first steps on our pathway without knowing it.  In this initial stage we look to make sure they have a commitment in faith as Christ as Lord and Savior and call Saddleback their home.  Notice there’s not a member requirement, yet.  We give them the opportunity to lead a small group with very little commitment.  We provide a New H.O.S.T. Home Kit that includes everything they need to get their new group started, including a DVD entitled “How to Start a Small Group.”  In addition to the kit, we also give the H.O.S.T.s access to 8 online training sessions (each lasting less than 10 minutes), which are available through our small group website.

Mark: So they get started with very little formal training, but they’re in the game.  They meet for the 6 weeks of the campaign series.  What happens next?

Steve: Two things happen if they want to continue past the initial H.O.S.T. stage.   First, we start the process of getting the new Hosts to be members of the church.  And second we invite them to Leader Training 1.  This is a basic training session for all of our continuing H.O.S.T.s.  It’s held several times every year and consists of one 3-hour session.  We offer the session both on campus and online.  Interestingly, less than a year into offering it online we’ve had more students in our online training than in our on campus training.  The course gives new H.O.S.T.s a strategic overview of our small group ministry, explains a few basic survival techniques for hosting a group, and shares the support structure we have in place for them.

After they’ve completed Leader Training 1 and signed the document with the small group guidelines and leader values, the church sends the H.O.S.T. a letter of congratulations and a certificate that marks their completion of this first step. Because relationships are a vital ingredient in the success of our small group leaders and we want them to know they will not be alone in their journey, the next important step is connecting each H.O.S.T. with a mentoring community leader (CL) —a seasoned member of our small group ministry who gets it and lives it.  From that point on, each H.O.S.T.’s community leader starts playing a key role in his or her growth process. The CL walks with the H.O.S.T. through each remaining step of the leadership pathway.

Mark: So they’ve moved from the baby steps of a 6 week commitment to a decision to continue, attended a 3 hour course and now are connected with a mentoring community leader.  Sounds good so far.  Do you have a sense for the percentage of your hosts that go on to the next step in the Leadership Pathway?

Steve:  I can tell you that prior to our latest Fall Campaign, 82% had continued past the Campaign for 3,736 groups.

Don’t Miss Part Two! You can read part two of this interview right here.  If you’re not signed up to get my updates, you can do that right here.

About Steve Gladen: I’ve said this a number of times, but I want to be sure and say this again. Steve is a couple of things. First, he’s one of the smartest GroupLife guys on the planet. He’s also one of the most helpful small group experts on the planet. Seriously. While we’re on the subject, I want to suggest again that all of you pre-purchase Steve’s upcoming book. Here is the link: Small Groups with Purpose and here’s more info about the book.

This GroupLife Trend Speaks the Language of the Culture

When I list the current grouplife trends, I think one is more important for the Church and its mission in the world than any of the others.  This may surprise you, but I think there is one trend more important than the missional group idea, the intentional discipleship strategy, or the integration of spiritual formation practices into grouplife curriculum.  I believe its even more important than the church-wide campaign strategy.

What trend is most important?  I believe story-driven visual media opens a unique door that presents a powerful, culturally savvy opportunity.  Think about it.  In a culture mesmerized by story, what creates better common ground?

While story-driven visual media is clearly an emerging trend in the production of small group curriculum (i.e., Liquid’s “The Ten” and “Mirror Image” or City on a Hill’s “Not a Fan”), I believe it will play an increasing role in the Church’s ability to connect with what I refer to as the widening 60% who will never be reached by an attractional strategy.  That is, this trend is about much more than a cool way to help Christian adults engage in discussion that generates life-change.

I don’t have many answers, but I know what causes an attention deficit distracted room to stop and watch…and then react.  For example, watch this commercial:

Watch the official video from Daughtry’s What About Now?

Or take a look at this powerful short film from Prolifik Films and POTSC:


How will we leverage an understanding of the language of a culture?  Watch for new curriculum that is story-driven.  Look for ways to incorporate story into your weekend experiences.  Look for ways to take advantage of the investment made by others.

As I’ve already said, I don’t have many answers.  I know this trend is escalating.  Now we just need to be on the lookout for opportunities to use the language of the culture to reach the widening 60%.

Integrating Spiritual Formation Practices into GroupLife

One of the most important trends in small group ministry is the way spiritual formation practices are being integrated into small group curriculum.  I listed it as one of the top 5 trends right here.  It’s popping up in a variety of ways.

One of the most prominent ways that spiritual formation is showing up is the inclusion of small group oriented questions in books like those in James Bryan Smith’s The Apprentice Series (The Good and Beautiful Community, The Good and Beautiful God, and The Good and Beautiful Life) or Trevor Hudson’s Discovering Our Spiritual Identity.  Including a set of questions or experiential assignments in the book itself makes it much more likely that groups will choose to use the book as curriculum.

Another key ingredient to the trend is the availability of small group curriculum that develops a spiritual formation pathway.  Early examples of this idea can be found in Zondervan’s Pursuing Spiritual Transformation series, particularly Fully Devoted, providing hands-on experiential elements in preparation for the group time.  Lifeway’s Formation: Building a Reliable Foundation is a more recent addition to the resource library.

It should also be mentioned that John Ortberg’s The Me I Want To Be is now available as a church-wide campaign.  The combination of DVD-driven small group curriculum (developed in Ortberg’s “Dallas-Willard-for everyone” style), available weekend sermon outlines, and promotional materials (bulletin shells, postcards, posters, and powerpoint slides) makes it possible to take your whole church on a spiritual formation journey.

Finally, the combination of an online experience with a printed or downloadable study guide is becoming more common.  In addition to the robust Monvee (with it’s visual experience and available small group curriculum), Chazown (based on Craig Groeschel’s book by the same name)  provides a simpler, more defined formation experience based on the idea of becoming what God had in mind for you when you were created.

Whichever angle you choose for your small group ministry it is becoming much more common for spiritual formation to be introduced or encouraged through the delivery system of grouplife.  I think you’ll agree, it makes a lot of sense to integrate the two into one experience.

Are you aware of other books, curriculum, or online experiences that promote spiritual formation in the context of a group?  Use the comment section to join the conversation!  You can add your two cents right here!.

The Monvee Visual Experience

You may have been hearing about Monvee, probably the current leader in an emerging field of online assessment and build your own spiritual pathway concepts.

Although there’s a lot to talk about (when you poke around amidst the discovery assessment, the discovery summary, the roadmap creator, and the dashboard that allows you to track your progress), it’s the small group experience that I want to talk about here.

The small group experience is made possible by the Monvee Pak.  Available at $19.95, the Monvee Pak includes “a unique PAK ID code that gives you full, lifetime access to Monvee,” the Visual Experience DVD, sample chapters of John Ortberg’s The Me I Want to Be and Eric Parks’ Change.  As you can see, at $19.95 per person, this is an all-in kind of experience.  You wouldn’t be persuading half-interested, half-hearted participation.

The Visual Experience is designed to be the first step in your Monvee journey.  The DVD, with 45 minutes of content spread over 6 Acts, can be used as an individual experience providing personal reflection.  It can also be used as the centerpiece of a 6 session small group experience.

Each of the 6 Acts features a fascinating personal story, presented in such an engaging way that you can’t help but be pulled in.  It is story-driven visual media at its best.  It is powerful and provocative…and will prepare your group for a discussion.

As is often the case when a story-driven approach is used, the DVD segments allow group members to immerse themselves in the story as it unfolds and then wrestle with interpretation.  So far, so good.  You’ll be captivated by the setting (Key West, Florida) and the memorable cast of characters you’ll meet.  Unlike some of the talking head teaching DVDs you’ll find, these segments will hold the attention of even the easily distracted members of your group.  8 to 10 minutes will fly by.  I’ve included the Monvee Visual Experience Trailer below.

If there is an obstacle to using the Visual Experience as a small group curriculum, it is that while the scant question set is provocative and should help your members engage, there aren’t enough questions to keep most groups in the game for 60 to 75 minutes.  Not to say that a skilled leader couldn’t pull it off.  They could.  But if you’re working with less experienced leaders, just know that you’ll need to provide additional material.  And without a leader’s guide, you’ll need to develop the additional material on your own.

In spite of the challenges (price per person, a less than robust set of discussion questions and the lack of a leader’s guide), I still think this will be a great experience for some groups.

Bill Search on Southeast’s Online Leader Training Resource

One of the most helpful small group leader training tools to come out in the last several years is Bill Search’s book, Simple Small Groups.  I wrote a review on it right here and included it in my 5 Essential GroupLife Reads.

Hadn’t talked with Bill in a while and was excited when I got his email pointing me to a great new resource on the Southeast Christian Church website.  When he mentioned that it was intentionally designed to be helpful to other churches…I knew you’d want to check it out.  I also took the opportunity to ask Bill a few questions.

Mark: What have you been up to since Simple Small Groups came out?

Bill: I just celebrated my fourth anniversary at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville. It’s a blast working at a church like Southeast.  There is always something going on.  Just like every other groups pastor out there I’m developing leaders, praying for more, and helping groups enjoy health.  I’ve had the privilege of training other church leaders on the three biblical patterns of a healthy group from northern Canada to Havana, Cuba, and places in between.

Mark: What are your biggest challenges right now at Southeast?

Bill: We are experiencing tremendous growth. We baptized more than 2,000 people last year.  With so many new Christians joining the challenge is helping them grow and mature and groups is a key part of that.

Mark: What are you seeing as the big grouplife priorities at Southeast?

Bill: We want groups to be more than a gathering of friends that put community at the center.  We really want people to understand that Jesus should be at the center of their group.  We should live and Jesus did.  Our biggest grouplife priority is helping our people see groups as an integral part of growing as a disciple of Jesus.

Mark: I love the Leader Training Videos on your website.  What motivated you to invest the time and energy in developing this tool?

Bill: We found many of our group leaders were wrestling with common problems.  We figured if we answered those simple questions it would free us up to engage our leaders about deeper matters.  Also, we wanted our leaders to have answers to their questions as the questions came up.  So we made the videos and put them online.  We also have them on DVD for leaders would rather have that format.  We also wanted to share with other churches the resources God has blessed us with.  We purposely didn’t mention Southeast on the videos so leaders from other churches can use.

Mark: Thanks for sharing the link with all of us!

Bill: It was a pleasure talking with you, Mark.  Thanks for your encouragement to the great grouplife community across the globe!


You can take a look at Southeast’s Leader Training Videos right here.  I think you’re going to be bookmarking this site and linking to it on your own small group leader blog!  Great stuff!

Review: To Transform a City

One of the most important developments on the grouplife scene* is the idea that the group exists to do something beyond itself.  More and more churches are designing their small group philosophy of ministry to be externally focused or to have a missional mindset.

Maybe you’re working through the implications right now…and you’re looking for resources that will help guide this new direction.  If that’s you, I think you’re going to find To Transform a City, by Eric Swanson and Sam Williams, to be a must read.  Co-author Eric Swanson brings the perspective of a seasoned veteran who’s taken more than a journalistic interest.  As the co-author (with Rick Rusaw) of The Externally Focused Church, The Externally Focused Life, and The Externally Focused Quest, Swanson brings a wealth of experience.  As a participant in Love Boulder, he’s been on the front lines of the kind of mission that can transform a city.

There are a number of aspects that make To Transform a City an important resource.  First, although it provides a clear biblical basis for the priority of this kind of mission, it does it in a way that is very readable.  Interspersed with stories of transformational practice, there is plenty to fire the imagination.  In addition, a kind of blueprint for city transformation begins to emerge.  It’s not fully developed, but there’s enough there to make out the pathway.  Finally, each chapter concludes with a set of questions for reflection and discussion that can easily be used to help a team begin to take steps on the path.

A key distinctive of Swanson’s teaching style is the use of transferable diagrams and illustrations.  The pages of To Transform a City are no exception.  Easy to follow.  Easy to explain the concepts to the rest of your team.

I found the chapter on partnering with others who care to be particularly helpful.  With the challenges in every city too great for any one church to deal with, and the opportunities too great to keep to ourselves, this chapter offers a way of thinking that can help your church work with the potential partners in your community.

Finally, the suggested resources section in the appendix will be very helpful to any church seeking to engage in city transformation.

I think you’re going to find To Transform a City to be a very challenging read.  Much like Swanson’s earlier book, The Externally Focused Church, you might find that you’ll begin to develop a new and different scorecard.  You’ll definitely need one, because you’ll also find yourself playing a whole different game.

*See my article on current grouplife trends.

Current GroupLife Trends

“What are the latest trends in small group ministry?”  That was the question my friend asked recently.  Makes sense to think about it.  After all, as we’ve talked about many times, we’ve all got just one opportunity have “the greatest impact on the largest number of people for the longest period of time.”  So it figures that you’d want to be aware of what’s being attempted in the ministries on the bleeding edge.  Here are a few of the trends I am aware of:

Question: Have you picked up on a trend I’m missing? What are you seeing that might be significant? Use the comment section to add your two cents. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Join Me at Radicalis? (2/22 – 2/25)

I’m looking forward to some great interaction at Radicalis in just a little over a month!  Hope you’re planning to check it out.

In case you aren’t aware, Radicalis is a great conference.  4 days with a super wide variety of speakers (this year the list includes Matt Carter, Steven Furtick, Dave Gibbons, Pete Wilson, Shawn Lovejoy, and Serio De La Mora).  You can see their bios right here.

They’re actually billing it as 14 Conferences in 1 (so you can bring your whole staff).  You can see the list of all they’re offering right here.  Looking this list over, I’m going to have a hard time choosing where to be at any one time.

I do know this though, I always run into the coolest people and have the best time connecting during the breaks.  Hope to see you there!

By the way…their best pricing ends on January 31st.

Working On vs Working In…Your Ministry

What have you done this week that’s had the most impact?  Was it meeting a small group leader for coffee?  Writing this week’s sermon-based study for the groups following the message?  How about the conversation you had with the new couple looking for a group right after the 11:00 a.m. service?

What have you done this week that’s had the most impact?

First of all, I get that your individual wiring plays a big part in your specific answer.  Where you personally have the greatest impact is influenced by your wiring or your SHAPE.  That’s true.

Working In Your Ministry

But…and this is really important…all of those examples are what I’d call working in your ministry.  That is, you’re personally investing in a coach or a leader or a potential member.  And that’s great.  And you may feel satisfaction in knowing that the individual coach benefited or that leader benefited or that potential member benefited.  But that’s almost never the most important thing you do.

Working On Your Ministry

Leaders of small group ministries have their greatest impact when they’re working on their ministry.

  • Impact the System: When you as the small group champion invest time clarifying what a win is for your ministry you’re investing in an activity that can impact the whole system.
  • Influence Neighborhoods: When you as the point person invest time designing the steps that lead to a larger HOST sign-up, you’re investing in an activity that can influence neighborhoods.
  • Transform Cities: When you as the small group pastor/director invest time in the conversations that lead to your missions pastor and missions team re-thinking the way local mission outreach is done, making it possible for whole groups to serve together, you’re investing in an activity that can transform cities.

I really want to encourage you to think this way and to design your week this way.  If you’re not giving time every week to working on the small group ministry in your church…you’re missing your opportunity to have the greatest impact on the largest number of people for the longest period of time.

Work on your ministry so that you can impact the system, influence neighborhoods, and transform cities.  I really believe there is a Parable of the Talents, Parable of the Minas, truth to this.  For the greatest impact, the greatest return, invest your time and your energy in working on your ministry.

Resource:  I really think that reading The 7 Practices of Effective Ministry could be one of the most effective things you do in the next few weeks.  If you haven’t read this important ministry tool by Andy Stanley and Reggie Joiner, it’s time to make the investment.  If you’ve already read it but you’re spending most of your time working in your ministry…it’s time to take it down from the shelf and read it again.  Maybe with your team!

Comments?  Does this make sense?  I’d love to know what you think about this challenge! You can jump into the conversation by clicking right here.