Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups

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I originally reviewed Activate in 2008.  Still a great resource, I think this is must-reading for small group pastors who want to understand how a semester system can work.  Here’s my review:


Looking for a soup-to-nuts primer on small group ministry?  For most churches,  Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups by Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas will neatly fill that need.  Unless yours is a large church (average adult attendance of more than 1,000), this will be a resource that will fill in a lot of blanks.

Covering the Journey Church methodology very thoroughly in 223 pages, Activate guides you from philosophy to implementation in a semester based approach.  Is it an “entirely new approach to small groups?”  No.  Does that make it any less valuable?  No again.  Incorporating concepts from a variety of sources, the Journey approach is a neatly designed system that will work in most churches.

If you’ve attempted to construct a small group system the way you’d select food at a buffet, the wisdom of implementing a system will be immediately obvious.  As the authors challenge in the introduction, “Read and digest this book.  Grab a highlighter and work your way through the following pages.  Make notes in the margin.  Disagree with us, laugh at us or raise your eyebrows.  We don’t mind.  Over the next 200 pages, we are going to show you a small group system that can consistently accomplish the goals we mention above.”

I like the concrete, step-by-step approach of this book.  If you’re looking for a systematic approach, this is a good one.  You can buy your copy right here.


By the way, here are two links you may want to check out:

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  1. Matt Adams on November 17, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    Mark, why do you think the “activate” strategy will not work in churches that are larger than 1,000?

  2. Nelson Searcy on November 17, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    Thanks for the shout out and the review! I have posted a number of free supplemental resources at
    BTW, I have a number of alumni from my coaching networks that are much larger than 1000 adults and they are using the activate system (namely, Eastlake Community Church in Bothell/Seattle, WA and Life Point Church in Tampa, FL – both were on Outreach’s fastest growing church list I believe) with great success.

  3. Mark Howell on November 18, 2008 at 6:52 am

    Matt, there is a simple reason and a disclaimer to my thinking on whether this approach will work in a church over 1,000.
    First the disclaimer. You’d first need to define success. If success is simply to connect 50% of your average adult attendance…then activate will work. If, on the other hand, success is connecting all of your adult attendees…then I don’t think it works, for this simple reason:
    Activate depends on identifying a sufficient number of leaders to absorb the unconnected attendees. Make sense? In other words, if you have 300 adults you’d need 20 to 30 leaders (Nelson advocates larger groups). If you have 1,000 adults you’d need 80 to 100 leaders. With me?
    As a church grows beyond a certain size this becomes problematic. When you are smaller than a certain size the pastor and other staff “know” everyone. Beyond a certain size…there are many potential leaders who choose to remain anonymous.
    How will you find enough capable leaders to absorb the unconnected adults in a larger congregation? This is the advantage of the Connection. This is the advantage of HOST. Both of these strategies identify leaders where you didn’t “know” them in advance.
    In all fairness, no system is “problem-free.” Every system comes with a set of problems. Skillful leaders choose the set of problems they’d rather have.

  4. Mark Howell on November 18, 2008 at 7:04 am

    Hey Nelson! Thanks for the links! I’ll add them to the post above. And I’ll check out the two churches you mentioned. Sounds interesting. I’d love to amend my review!