Saddleback’s Rick Zeiger on Small Group Vital Signs

I visited Saddleback Church a number of years ago and felt overwhelmed, not just by the enormity of the place and the number of people, but also by the quality of everything they did. I was greeted in the parking lot by warm, friendly, Hawaiian-shirt clad folks in the parking lot and along the sidewalks leading up to the building. Once inside, I found it easy to find my way and find out more about the church. It was impossible to miss the fact that small groups were a major part of this church’s life. I saw it at a kiosk set up outside the building and in the foyer, and heard it several times in the service, especially from Rick Warren.That day I just happened to run into Brett Eastman, and spent some time talking about small groups and ministry.

I’ve followed Saddleback and their small group story for many years and have learned a lot from them. I’m currently part of the PurposeDriven Small Group Network, a great place to build relationships with other small groups point people and share ideas. Today, one of Saddleback’s area small groups pastors shares his thoughts on Small Group Vital Signs:

“What a fantastic contribution to the small group world. Michael Mack’s strong theological framework and unrelenting emphasis on the importance of a Christ centered and spiritually healthy group leader is the launching point to authentic community. This powerful book goes beyond mere group life theory; it is packed with practical tools and relevant life experiences that will transform any small group ministry. Mack’s health indicators are not a program to be studied but a lifestyle to embody and a must for all who lead others. I look forward to this book’s impact on your leaders and the life changing ripple effect it will have in the kingdom of God.”
Rick Zeiger is a Small Group Area Pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. His interests include the Bible, baseball, books, body surfing, beach cruisers, and building things. Apparently, Rick’s interests are limited to B things! Oh yeah, and one more “B”: Check out his Blog at “The Christ Adventure.”

A Healthy Small Group Is the Body of Christ

A small group, at its core, is Christ’s body in action. Stop and think about this for a moment. Your small group is the church. Not a subset of the church. Not a supportive program within the church. Not a tool to close the back door. Unfortunately, in today’s world, our mental image of “church” is usually something much bigger or more institutional than a single small group. We say, “I’m going to church,” meaning a building, a mass meeting, or possibly a structured program of some sort. The New Testament never uses the word church that way. Rather it refers to God’s people, called to carry out his mission. The New Testament uses the word church in three basic ways:

  1. The church that meets in the home (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Philemon 1:2)
  2. The church in a certain geographical area (Acts 13:1; Romans 16:1; 1 Corinthians 1:2)
  3. All of God’s called-out people (ecclesia, Matthew 16:18)

My objective here is not to get into a pointless argument about the definition of words (see 1 Timothy 6:4 and 2 Timothy 2:14). I want to help you see what your group really is, or at least what it has the potential to become.

You are the church. You are the body of Christ,
perfectly arranged by God to carry out his mission for his world.  — 1 Corinthians 12:18

If your group is not healthy, this definition may not fit you today. Perhaps you are not seeing God’s mission accomplished through your group at the present time. But I believe there is hope! I believe that God can transform your group into a robust and healthy expression of Christ’s body.

In my new book, Small Group Vital Signs, I put on my doctor’s scrubs and got out my diagnostic instruments to help you measure the health of your group. Then, I provided holistic cures to help your group become the healthy body that God designed it to be.  If you are the group’s leader, don’t attempt to do this alone. Your whole group must be involved!
This blog is an excerpt from my new book, Small Group Vital Signs: Seven Indicators of Health that Make Group… (TOUCH Publications) to be released late February, 2012.

What Randy Boschee Has to Say About Small Group Vital Signs

If you’re following along, my new book, Small Group Vital Signs, is now just days away from being available. If you have not taken our free small group healthy assessment, you can take it here. Today, I’m sharing what one of my fellow small group pastors said about the book.

“This book speaks to the heart of what’s missing in many small group ministries… A true focus on life change and authentic discipleship in the context of group life.  I was inspired, encouraged, and challenged as a small group pastor to refocus my efforts to build a small group ministry that embodies the essence of biblical community, to be the Body of Christ.”
Randy Boschee is Life Groups Pastor at Liquid Church, one of New Jersey’s fastest growing churches now meeting on three campuses plus online. He has also served at 12 Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He’s a 33-year ministry veteran and has been involved in small groups ministry since 1997. 

I’m extremely grateful to Randy. As a guy who has been in the ministry trenches day in and day out for many years, I appreciate his positive feedback on the book. Thanks, Randy!

What Dave Earley Said About Small Group Vital Signs

I just got word that Small Group Vital Signs is being sent to the printer TODAY! Any day now it will be available from TOUCH. Today, I’m sharing the kind words of fellow author, Dave Earley:

“Michael Mack certainly knows his stuff. In Small Group Vital Signs he skillfully blends his passion with solid content and practical wisdom.  I really, really like this book and plan on using it as a core text in training our small group leaders.”

Dave Earley is pastor of Grace City Church, Las Vegas,Nevada, a church that is committed to doing very hard things in really tough places so God gets all the glory. He is author of eighteen books including 8 Habits of Effective Small Group Leaders. See a list of his books HERE

Dave is one of my favorite small group ministry writers. I love his regular blog posts, and I know I’ve read at least four of his books about groups. Two of them, Turning Members Into Leaders and 8 Habits of Effective Small Group Leaders, have been extremely influential on me, the way I view small group leadership, my ministry, and my writing. Dave has also written about ministry, marriage, parenting, and several titles on prayer. I’m putting these on my reading list! 

What Pat Sikora Has to Say About Small Group Vital Signs

We’re just days away from the release of my newest book, Small Group Vital Signs. In anticipation, I’m sharing what some of my friends and small group ministry partners have so generously said about the book. Today, my old friend, Pat Sikora.

Is your small group healthy? Really? How do you know? As a person involved in small group leadership for over 35 years, I know it’s easy to meander along and just assume that if everyone’s getting along, we are a healthy group and we are doing most things right. But how do we know for sure? Michael Mack is one of the leading small group pastors in the country. He has authored several books on leadership and now has added to his repertoire with Small Group Vital Signs, in which he offers a thorough discussion on each of seven vital signs. He then offers an assessment to measure the health of your group. Mike is a shepherd at heart, and that shows through on every page. If your group seems to be lacking something, but you’re not sure what, you’ll benefit from this book.
I first met Pat Sikora back in the early ’90s when I was an editor at Standard Publishing. Standard had published her book, Small Group Bible Studies: How to Lead Them. In one of my favorite chapters in the book, Pat helped leaders with how to deal with challenging groups or group members. She created memorable characters such as Mona Monopoly and Quentin Quiet, and then gave step-by-step directions on how to help that person and, at the same time, create a healthy environment for the group. When I began editing a column in The Lookout magazine, I worked with Pat to do short articles on each of these challenging people. Then, when I started, Pat became a regular columnist, using much of the same material and even creating some new situations and characters. In 2007, I helped Standard create some new small group resources, and one of the first people I called was Pat. I asked her to devote a whole book to helping leaders deal with challenging people, so she authored Why Didn’t You Warn Me? How to deal with challenging group members in our series of Small Group Help Guides. Today, you can find out more on Pat’s Why Didn’t You Warn Me web page.

Over the years, I’ve learned tons from Pat about leading healthy small groups. She showed me how to care for those challenging people (who we sometimes call “EGRs” or Extra Grace Required people) with grace and firmness. She taught me how to love a person and not treat them as an object or a problem, but, at the same time, put the needs of the whole group above any one individual in a group. 

But Pat is much more than just a small group expert. She is the founder of Mighty Oak Ministries, a ministry that provides tools, resources, and strategies to equip the body of Christ to …
  • encourage and nurture the wounded and broken in their churches and ministries
  • help them grow deeply, heal progressively, and mature splendidly

Pat continues to write, speak, and equip. She works extensively with women, parents, small group leaders, and writers. See more about Pat on her bio page.

I’m so grateful to Pat for all I’ve learned from her that found their way onto the pages of Small Group Vital Signs.

What Ben Reed Has to Say About Small Group Vital Signs

I’m sharing some of the nice words my friends and small group ministry colleagues are saying about Small Group Vital Signs. Today, Ben Reed:
“There are certain questions that keep me up at night. ‘Is my small group really healthy?’ happens to be one of them. I am not shooting for a ‘good’ small group, but a ‘great’ one that is a God-centered reflection of who and what He intends small groups to be. I’m so indebted for Mike’s work in Small Group Vital Signs, that’s helping me ensure my group(s) pursue health.”

Ben Reed is Community Groups Pastor at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tennessee. He’s also one of my favorite bloggers (at Life & Theology: Musings of a Young Pastor) and at least one of the top three people I quote constantly. His writings influenced several chapters of Small Group Vital Signs, so I’m greatly indebted to Ben. 

What Mark Taylor Has to Say About Small Group Vital Signs

This is the third post in a series of blogs sharing what some friends and small group leadership partners are saying about Small Group Vital Signs. Today I’m grateful for my friend and one of my biggest supporters and encouragers, Mark Taylor. 
“Finally! A book about small groups to help us decide we should have small groups and to know whether our small groups are fulfilling a biblical purpose. Although this book is practical, it is refreshingly devoid of self-centered trendiness. Those just starting a small groups program—and those who have led small groups for years—must read this book to evaluate what they’re doing!” 
                                                  – Mark Taylor
I met Mark Taylor nearly 25 years ago (could it really be that long?) at Standard Publishing in Cincinnati. At the time, I had been a Christian about a month and sensed God calling me as a writer and editor in a Christian publishing company. So I met with Mark, Sam Stone, and Gene Wigginton at the Standard offices. I remember the puzzled looks on their faces as they tried to explain that their editors had not only been Christians a long time, but many had been in ministry for years. I guess I was pretty relentless, so they suggested I check out Cincinnati Bible College and maybe take some classes. I went to the campus that day and registered. Two months later I started work on my MA in Christian Education with an emphasis in journalism in the seminary. About six months after that, John Sample called me and offered me a job at Standard as his assistant. Another six months later, when Mark moved from editing The Lookout to adult books and curriculum, I was offered the associate editor position at The Lookout, where I first started writing about small groups in a column we called “Growing in Groups.” The next year Mark asked me to join his team editing adult books and curriculum. I had no idea what I was doing, but God was obviously in control!
I owe so much to Mark Taylor. He has taken chances on me numerous times. More importantly, he  mentored me and believed in me. Mark and I co-wrote two “Creative Groups Guides”: Claiming Your Place and Hearing God. Then, after I left Standard to found, Mark continued to help me with side editing jobs that got me through those first couple rough years. When I was ordained as a minister, Mark came and gave the charge. Mark and I have continued to work together on small groups projects at Standard. He helped edit my book I’m a Leader…Now What? published by Standard in 2007. Today, I’m writing a monthly column about small group leadership for the Christian Standard, of which Mark Taylor is the editor and publisher.
Yes, Mark Taylor has had an impact on my life!
Thanks, Mark, for believing in me, encouraging me, and helping to mold me as a Christian man, minister, and writer. 

What Heather Zempel Has to Say About Small Group Vital Signs

I’m sharing what a few of my friends and small group ministry partners have said about my newest book, Small Group Vital Signs. Last time, Jon Ferguson shared his thoughts. Today, I’m honored to have Heather Zempel weigh in.
“For the Body of Christ to function as it was designed, we need to give ourselves regular check-ups. In Small Group Vital Signs, Mack clears away a lot of the clutter that has clouded our understanding of building healthy community and moves us back to the priority of centering our lives around Christ. With these practical and biblically rooted diagnostic tools and questions, we can assess our health and vitality as individual leaders and as life-giving communities.”
Heather is Discipleship Pastor at National Community Church and author of Sacred Roads and Community is Messy.She describes herself on her blog as Environmental Engineer, Senate Policy Advisor, LSU Grad, Southerner, Discipleship Pastor, Star Wars Geek, T-ball All Star, Theatre Nerd, Connoisseur of Fried Dill Pickles, Wife and Biggest Fan of Ryan Zempel. 

What Jon Ferguson Has to Say About Small Group Vital Signs

As the release of my newest book, Small Group Vital Signs draws very near, I’d like to share what some of my friends and partners in small groups ministry are saying about it. Over the next couple weeks I’ll share one or two of their thoughts about the book per day. I’d love to hear your input as well. You can order the book now here!

I’ll start with my long-time friend, Jon Ferguson, a man who has been referred to as a “Small Group Guru,” which he definitely is! 

“Don’t settle for the status quo in your small groups!  Mike Mack’s new book, Small Group Vital Signs will not only gauge the current health and vitality of your groups, but give you a growth plan for helping them grow and reproduce.  If you’re looking to revitalize and recharge your small groups, this book is a must-read!”

Jon is one of the founding pastors (along with his brother Dave Ferguson) of Community Christian Church, a reproducing church with 11 locations in the Chicago area.  He serves as teaching pastor and leads the team of staff champions for adult, student, children’s, and creative arts ministries across all Community locations.  Jon is also the co-founder and Movement Architect of the NewThing Network whose mission is to be a catalyst for a movement of reproducing churches. 

Jon co-authored The Big IdeaAligning the Ministries of Your Church Through Creative Collaboration and ExponentialHow You and Your Friends Can Start a Missional Church Movement.

Jon and I go back twenty-something years, when he wrote articles for a “Growing in Groups” column I then edited for The Lookout magazine, and also was one of the main contributors when I founded back in the late 80s and early 90s. Jon is a leader whom I deeply respect, so I really value his thoughts about Small Group Vital Signs.

The Reason Why Leaders Face Deep, Dark Valleys

“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it is painful! But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Hebrews 12:11, NLT).  

It’s natural for a father to discipline his children if he truly loves them (Proverbs 3:11-12). At the same time, we, especially we leaders, face spiritual warfare that our Father allows. He allows it because he lovingly gives us–and Satan to an extent–freewill. But he also allows it, I believe, because he uses it to make us stronger in his kingdom purposes for us.

As leaders, we really need to see this biblical perspective on the deep dark valleys in which we sometimes find ourselves.

“The Valley of the Shadow of Death” Artist: George Inness, 1867

The promise of Hebrews 12:11, as well as Luke 18:1; Galatians 6:9; and many other verses is what you and I are depending on and waiting for in the midst of the valleys, difficult circumstances, spiritual battles, and loving discipline we will go through. Dear leader, know that God will use all of this somehow in his Kingdom. Know that much of what you are going though (or will go through) is spiritual battle with Satan, and know that God’s angel army is fighting this fight with you. Otherwise you could not endure it.

Have you ever noticed the timing of Satan’s attacks? I have. They almost always come just as you are about to bear fruit and it looks like growth and multiplication is ready to happen. It occurs just as you see God using you as only he can in his Kingdom. Satan takes note of all this and begins to tell lies and pull out his bag of tricks. Be glad you’re not fighting alone. God with his angel armies and the power of his Spirit is with you, fighting for and with you, giving you the strength to keep going. He will never leave nor forsake you. He will walk through this deep, dark valley with you. He will use his staff and rod to guide you and ultimately comfort you. And he will give you a peace that passes all understanding in the midst of it (Philippians 4:6-7, 12-13).

Instead of worrying about all the circumstances out of your control that you may not deserve, simply pray and trust God, no matter what happens. Wait patiently but proactively for him. God’s peace — a peace that is impossible to even understand — follows.  

God in his wisdom allows a certain amount of painful circumstances and even depression (read Psalm 6 and King David’s walk through his deep, dark valley) to happen to discipline you and me and build spiritual muscles that make us stronger soldiers in his Kingdom. He will use all this somehow. There will be a harvest.Don’t give up!