A Review of “Transformational Groups” by Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger

transformationalMost people think small groups are a good idea; very few people seemed to be engaging in them well. That’s the general conclusion that Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger have come to through their nation-wide research. In Transformational Groups they give us insights into this research and help in making the shift from merely having groups to making disciples. The usefulness of this resource is found largely in its ability to expose the blind-spots in the larger church’s use of small groups. Transformational Groups really can help pastors utilize groups for more intentional disciple-making.

As part of LifeWay’s Transformational Discipleship project, the book’s primary goal is to help pastors and churches turn small groups into effective tools for discipleship. Their research revealed some distressing information about the church and its small group ministry. Stetzer and Geiger found that in far too many churches community is really optional. Community is just one of the things that our churches do, among the hundreds of other things it does. It is not viewed as nor communicated as a discipleship essential. So the authors ask:

Did you ever think people who attend your church are comfortable without community because you are making it comfortable for them? (13)

But it’s not enough just to have small groups. Their research further revealed that people are not looking for correction. In other words, they will be in a small group if it requires no commitment from then, and if its primary goal is just comfort. One of the things Stetzer and Geiger do well throughout the book is distinguish between small groups that simply exist, and small groups that aid in transformation. Correction is a necessity for transformation. Finally, they found that those interested in or involved in small groups were primarily concerned with their individual needs. That is to say, they were less concerned about the others in the group and their role in the group’s life. This individualism dramatically impacts our small group emphasis and effectiveness.

The book walks us through nine steps to transforming our small group ministry. Each step gets us closer to the ultimate goal of making disciples, not simply of having lots of small groups. The authors are quick to dismiss any notion of a “magical formula”. They do not write to outline every detail of how an individual church should do small groups. Groups need to be tailor-made to fit your context, but they do give us the big picture guidelines to help inform our decision-making on the details. The pastoral heart of these two authors comes out clearly as they warn us against copy-cat methodology, but lead us into clear cogent thought about the overall goal of small groups. In particular they argue that for groups to be effective they need to have three key elements: gospel, community, and mission.

The church’s “discipleship deficit” makes a book like Transformational Groups necessary. Throughout the book the authors are continually defending small groups and their role in the disciple-making of the local church. They are also demonstrating how effective groups accomplish the task of making-disciples. They give us feedback at the beginning and end of the chapters from small group leaders and small group participants. They help us throughout the chapters to see good examples and bad examples. Probably some of the more helpful pieces of the book are their discussions on defining the goal and integration of groups. These two chapters are so foundational to small group ministry and yet are so frequently overlooked. I know in my own ministry they remained a glaring oversight for years. Defining what a disciple is turns out to be extremely important, and is far too often assumed by those responsible for leading the ministry. Without a clearly established target, and measurable progress we won’t achieve the goal.

The discussion on integration was equally as insightful. The authors stressed the importance of fitting small groups within the larger discipleship goals of your church. How do small groups help you achieve your church’s overall mission and vision? What void is missing in your church’s life that small groups can fill? Are small groups primarily about teaching, fellowship, or outreach? They can be about one of those things primarily, so we have to choose what we will emphasize. This chapter was an important reminder to think through a church’s overall mission and analyze how small groups will fit within that framework. Stetzer’s and Geiger’s emphasis on clear goals and clear vision were exceedingly helpful reminders as I worked throughout the book and then turned to apply its principles to my own context.

This is a great resource of pastors, small group leaders, and small group administrators. You will reap the benefits of their years of research and study, and you will be encouraged by the clarity of thought the authors bring to an often nebulous discussion of “disciple-making”. Transformational Groups can help you achieve exactly what it says it can, “creating a new scorecard for groups.” I highly recommend it.

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  1. […] A Review of “Transformational Groups” by Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger—Dave Dunham […]

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