Small-group ministry experts headline Summit

Panelists included Lyman Coleman and Steve Gladen

Nashville, Tennessee 2/24/2010 08:00 PM GMT (TransWorldNews)

A veritable who’s who in the world of small-group ministry shared ideas, opinions and good-natured banter during The Summit: A Convergence of Small Group Experts. 

The Feb. 17 free, online event was hosted by Rick Howerton, small-groups ministry consultant with
Serendipity by LifeWay, an area of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. More than 1,000 people from 17 countries either attended in person or joined online. 

Howerton welcomed nine leaders who, along with Howerton, are known around the world for their passion for and commitment to small-group ministry.

The speakers quickly dove in to answering questions submitted by registered participants on a variety of topics related to small groups.


Asked the best way to assimilate people into small groups, Eddie Mosley, executive director of GroupLife at LifePoint Church, Smyrna, Tenn., said he believes it is important to start with what is already functioning well in a church, such as women’s groups, men’s groups and discipleship groups.

“Give people many options to connect,” he said. “Look at who is already working in your church and involve those leaders to help you generate interest.”

Bill Search, groups ministry team leader at Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Ky., then addressed the pros and cons of using small groups along with Sunday school. 

“If both are healthy, I see no problem at all in using both,” he said. “In both you want people to find a connection with other people. People want to connect in different ways. From what I have seen, choosing small groups instead of Sunday school is often a space issue. A church just may not have the space to do all the groups on Sunday morning.”

Regardless of location, volunteer leaders are a necessary part of a successful small-group ministry.

In his role as pastor of small-group community at Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, Calif., Steve Gladen oversees a small-group ministry with some 3,500 leaders. He was asked how he was able to enlist that many people.

“Some of that begins with terminology,” he said. “We don’t call them leaders; we call them hosts. We look for people with the spiritual gift of hospitality and ask them if they would be willing to host a few other people in their home. We ask them if they will open their home, serve a snack and put a teaching DVD in their DVD player. When they agree to do that and have a good experience, then we move on to leadership training.”

Pastor support, spiritual growth

Lyman Coleman, a small-groups pioneer and founder of Serendipity, was asked about the role of the senior pastor in small-group ministry.

“He has to be the Jesus model for the leaders in his church; the one who calls out others,” Coleman said. “He should never miss an opportunity from the pulpit to mention that he is involved in a small group and wants everyone else to be in one as well.”

Howerton asked Coleman point blank whether a church could have a successful small-group ministry without the senior pastor’s total support.

“No,” he said. “I have never seen a successful small-group ministry in a church unless the senior pastor is the champion of it.”

Another question referred to spiritual growth in small-group ministry, which Search answered by comparing the ministry to a game of darts. 

“You have this big bull’s-eye,” he said, “and you want to hit it. But the first time you play darts, you’re just happy to hit the board and not the wall. As you continue, though, you get better and the people you are playing with get better and get closer to the bull’s-eye. With each throw that gets closer to the center, you celebrate. It’s important to notice the small steps to spiritual growth and celebrate those.”


“Small-group ministry is based on relationships – with God, with others and with the world,” said Randall Neighbour of TOUCH Outreach Ministries in Houston. “It has to be. You have a commitment to the members of your small group to travel this journey called life alongside them. You start out with ‘I kind of know you, and you kind of know me.’ Then the relationships grow and you reach the point where you can say, ‘I would sacrifice everything for you, and you would sacrifice everything for me.’”

Coleman said the important thing for churches considering a small-group ministry is to just do it. “Start where you are. Use what you have. I’m 76 years old, and I do a small group for lonely people, men who have lost their wives. Do what you can.”

Before concluding the event, Bill Donahue, director of leadership development and group life at Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Ill., spoke for the group when he thanked Coleman for being a pioneer of small-group ministry. “Thank you, Lyman, for not passing us a broken baton.”

Other leaders participating in the event included Reid Smith, community life pastor at Christ Fellowship, Palm Beach, Fla.; Greg Bowman, director of groups and formation at West Ridge Community Church, Elgin, Ill.; and Carl George, church consultant and author of “Nine Keys to Effective Small Group Leadership,” from Diamond Bar, Calif.

The event will be archived and available for viewing and downloading at


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