Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% In Groups

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waveUpdate: I wrote this article in 2009 and have updated it slightly to reflect subtle changes in strategy.


I’m regularly asked how Saddleback can have more adults in groups than they have in worship.  People everywhere scoff when they hear the numbers.  And I have to admit, it is pretty wild.  After all, during Transformed, their most recent church-wide campaign, they had over 8400 groups with over 59,000 people in them while their worship attendance was averaging 35,000 to 37,000!  (By the way, that’s not preacher talk.  Their database supported those numbers in September)

Ever looked at their numbers and shaken your head in disbelief…or amazement?  Here are my top 10  keys to understanding how they do it:

  1. Saddleback talks about groups all year long.  While there may be certain weeks where group life gets even more attention (early fall as they launch their annual church-wide campaign, first of the year to catch people who have just made commitments at a Christmas Eve service or want to start the new year fresh, just after Easter for the same reason), they talk about the importance of being in a group every weekend.
  2. It doesn’t matter who’s preaching (Rick Warren, Tom Holladay, etc.), they talk about groups every weekend.  They talk about the power of group life and they mention their own group.
  3. It doesn’t matter what message series they’re in, they talk about being in a group every weekend.  For example, during a 2007 message series on recovery they featured a different testimony each week on the power of being in a group (Celebrate Recovery, Divorce Care, Grief Care, etc.).
  4. They have systematically made it easier to start new groups.  “If you have a heart for unconnected people, are willing to open your home for 6 weeks, serve a few refreshments, and tell a few friends…you can be a host.”  In 2014 they began saying, “If you have a couple friends, you could host a group.”  This is a huge point because they’ve recognized that there will be problems, they acknowledge going in that not all of them will make it, and yet they are committed to helping as many begin as possible because they know that every host is the best person to reach certain people. See also, Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.
  5. They have systematically lowered the bar in terms of who can lead a group.  If you’re inviting your own friends and neighbors, why should you have to be Jesus Jr.?  They’ve provided great next steps for new hosts designed to help them get started and grow in Christ, but they’re not waiting until they have it all together.
  6. They regularly develop new DVD-driven small group curriculum that is easy to use and can be facilitated by new and inexperienced leaders.  Just-add-water and plug-and-play accurately describe the degree of difficulty.
  7. They immediately connect each of their newest leaders with a coach who can help them through the beginning stages.
  8. Their newest groups are given a follow-up curriculum that is equally easy to use.  They don’t wait until they ask what’s next.  They actually begin talking about what’s next before the first series is completed.
  9. Their topics for church-wide campaigns are carefully designed to appeal to the crowd.
  10. A regular strategy is to ask their existing small groups to consider taking a small group vacation during church-wide campaigns and instead of meeting together, step out and help start new groups.

I believe an underlying principle for Saddleback is that they are always looking for a better way, an angle, that will help them connect more people.  I remember when everyone thought the Connection idea was crazy even as it launched over 800 groups and connected over 7,000 people in them.  I remember when the HOST idea first began to be used and many people thought it was completely crazy to allow someone to sign up to open their home.  What will be next?  It’ll probably seem crazy.  It may or may not work.  And I’ll be holding my breath…because if it works who knows what could happen! See also, The Real Reason Saddleback Connects So Many in Groups.

See also, Top 10 Reasons North Point Has Connected Over 72000* in Groups and Top 10 Reasons North Coast Has Connected Over 80% in Groups.

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  1. José Sousa on September 17, 2010 at 9:02 am

    I’m a pastor in Portugal, anda have tried small groups, some with good results.
    But the church has not been very fan of the idea. I’m looking for new and better ways to implement this strategy.

    Many blessings.

  2. Mark Howell on September 17, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Thanks for commenting here, Jose! I know you’ll have more impact if you apply the ideas in this article. And watch the blog here too! There’s always something new to learn.


  3. Leo Castro on September 20, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Pastor Jose, I am a pastor for a Hispanic church in the Reno/Sparks area in Nevada and we use small groups very successfully. We have incorporated a discipleship training during the time the small groups meet and that is going well.
    Blessings to you Pastor Jose.

  4. Mark Howell on September 20, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Thanks Leo! Thrilled that it’s working for you!


  5. FrankNbeans on May 22, 2011 at 3:52 am

    You’ve missed a really obvious reason, which should be listed as #1, and it has nothing to do with all the great things you mentioned.

    This church, like most megachurches in America, have thousands of single parent families from divorce. These folks get to small group mid-week regularly, but don’t make it to church on weekends when it’s their weekend to have or not have the kids.

    Believe it or not, this accounts for a large percentage of the over-100% number.

    Saddleback still does everything you mentioned though, and they do it really well. There’s just a simple explanation for some things that are beyond the control

  6. Anonymous on May 22, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Thanks for jumping in here! And I like your insight into why every church has a demographic (single parents) that should prompt them to develop off-weekend and off-campus connection opportunities.

    At the same time, in the Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% in Groups I’ve tried to identify the ways that they’ve taken what is true nearly everywhere and ended up with a connection percentage dramatically beyond the ordinary. Remember, a high percentage of single parents is not unique to Saddleback. In my experience in churches around the country, it is a very common phenomenon.

    By the way, I have previously added to my list. The Real Reason Saddleback Connects So Many in Groups ( is an example.

    I am intrigued by your observation, though, and may want to write an article on the need to create connecting opportunities beyond the weekend.