Small Groups with Purpose

How to Create Healthy Communities

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Make small groups work in your church!

Over the past fifteen years, small groups have become a vital way to build community in large churches. Nowhere has this been more apparent than at Saddleback Church. Steve Gladen, pastor of small groups at Saddleback, shares the secrets of that ministry’s incredible success in creating small groups with purpose.

This practical book walks you through the questions you need to answer to develop your own intentional small group strategy. Because it is built on principles and not methods, this step-by-step process can be implemented successfully in any size church. Each chapter ends with a list of questions for you to answer to help you assess your current situation and your desires for the future. Personal stories, Scripture, and examples ground the discussion and show the system in action.


"In The Purpose Driven Church, I wrote, 'The key to a healthy church, just like a healthy body, is balance.' Balance is also the key to a healthy small group ministry. And in this long-awaited book, Saddleback's brilliant pastor of small groups shares the biblical strategy, the secrets, the failures, and the lessons behind the remarkable growth of our small groups. Saddleback may possibly be the only church in America that consistently has thousands more people attend weekly Bible study in groups than attend our weekend services. So much of that is due to the genius of Steve Gladen, a pastor with a passionate heart for Jesus and his body."--Rick Warren, author, The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church

"Steve Gladen understands small group ministry. With this book he gives a practical exploration of methods that will help build leaders and grow small groups. Whether your church is pioneering a new approach or you've been at it for years, this book has insight for establishing a sound approach to small group ministry, built on Steve's extensive experience. You will find his book practical and encouraging."--Ed Stetzer, coauthor, Transformational Church;

"Steve Gladen and Saddleback Church have been pioneers and important voices for connecting people into biblical community for many years. I am so glad Steve has finally put their story and strategy down in book form. Steve is not a theorist but an experienced practitioner who has added tremendous value to thousands of churches and church leaders. I know--I am one of them. There is a wealth of insight and inspiration in Small Groups with Purpose. Read it slowly and process it deeply, and your church and small group ministry will be the better for it."--Bill Willits, director of ministry environments, North Point Ministries; coauthor, Creating Community

"For years I've been watching Steve Gladen and Saddleback build a thriving community of transformational groups. Now we get to peek behind the curtain at the decisions, strategies, wisdom, mistakes, successes, and leadership lessons learned along the way. My friend Steve--and this timely resource--are great gifts to the church!"--Bill Donahue, bestselling author; lead strategist for the Communitas Network

"This book is incredible! Anyone and everyone who is invested in launching, improving, and maintaining effective and healthy small groups within the local church needs to read this book. It is beyond practical. It's accessible, realistic, and grounded. If you're looking for new insight and proven tools that will empower your efforts to cultivate community, look no further. This is the book!"--Les Parrott, professor of psychology, Seattle Pacific University; founder,

"Some authors write from theory. Some write from vision. Steve writes from a proven track record of one of the most remarkable small group ministries in history. Mixing practice, theory, and vision together, this book will challenge your small groups to new heights.
"For over a decade I have marveled at what God has done through groups at Saddleback. It's about time the story is told and the keys are shared!"--Bill Search, author, Simple Small Groups; pastor of groups, Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, KY

"Fewer people on the planet know more about building healthy small groups than Steve Gladen. You will be inspired and informed with fresh ideas and clear strategies that flow from years of experience and expertise. Thanks, Steve--for this book, for your huge heart, and for all your help!"--Steve Mawston, connect group pastor, Hillsong Church Australia

"If you've ever wanted to hear the real story about how Saddleback connects more people in groups than they have on the weekend, don't miss Small Groups with Purpose. You're not going to find a better step-by-step guide. Better yet, you're not going to find a more humble storyteller than Steve Gladen."--Mark Howell, founder,

"Jesus and the early church discipled people through small groups. In this book, my friend Steve Gladen mines the Bible and his leadership experience at Saddleback Church for practical advice on how to create healthy small groups at your church."--George O. Wood, general superintendent, Assemblies of God USA

"It's true that Steve Gladen works at Saddleback Church, serves alongside Rick Warren, and oversees a ministry of more than 3,500 small groups. But if you're able, try to forget about all that as you read this book. Because Small Groups with Purpose is filled with clear, practical insights and ideas that speak directly to your church, your leaders, and your community."--Sam O'Neal, managing editor,, Christianity Today International

"I am thrilled to endorse this powerful work by Steve Gladen. Steve and Rick Warren have pioneered one of the most successful small group systems in America, and Steve's quiet, behind-the-scenes guidance has made this happen. I trust that you will realize the profound success their emphasis on Scripture and discipleship has birthed at Saddleback Church. Steve is humble, helpful, and powerfully passionate in connecting members in fellowship. I look forward to this book's impact on our nation."--Larry Stockstill, senior pastor, Bethany World Prayer Center

"Healthy communities are a key component of today's thriving churches. In these pages, Steve not only reveals why groups are so crucial; he also lays out a step-by-step plan for keeping them healthy and vibrant. Small Groups with Purpose is a must-read!"--Nelson Searcy, founder and lead pastor, The Journey Church; author, Maximize: How to Develop Extravagant Givers in Your Church

"Saddleback Church has more than 100 percent of its weekend worship attendance in a small group. Steve Gladen is the reason why. After many years of waiting, Steve has finally given people in the small group world what they've been in need of--one volume telling the rest of us how to have an off-the-charts effective small group ministry. Thanks for letting us in on it, Steve!"--Rick Howerton, leader in the small group movement; founding pastor, The Bridge; Global Small Group Environmentalist, NavPress Publishing

"Many pastors are looking for that one thing that will make small groups work in their church. You'll find that in this book, but it won't be Saddleback's refined assimilation system or group leader recruitment process. That one thing is this church's passion for spiritual health among the members. Read. Learn. Adopt their God-given passion for discipling people into self-feeding, missional believers. Then your small groups will work!"--Randall Neighbour, author, The Naked Truth about Small Group Ministry; president, TOUCH Outreach Ministries

"I've been waiting for a resource on small groups that would help pastors grow healthy small groups designed around the five purposes of the church. The wait is over. Small Groups with Purpose is a guidebook for pastors, small group leaders, and others who know the power of experiencing community. You will be inspired as you read the story of Steve Gladen, whose life was changed because of his involvement in small groups. Churches of all sizes will discover practices that can take their small group ministry to the next level. There are several books on the market about small group ministry, but this will be the gold standard."--Daryl Eldridge, president, Rockbridge Seminary

"The work Steve has done for the whole small group movement by developing a healthy and balanced model speaks for itself. He and Rick Warren have broken new ground for nontraditional churches without compromising the message. Over the last sixty years in this movement, I have seen fads come and go. I think that is the reason I am so appreciative of Steve's story in this book. He is the first (along with Rick) to share his failures and how he learned from them."--Lyman Coleman, small groups pioneer; founder, Serendipity House Publishers

"As an experienced church consultant, I will give you eight reasons why you absolutely must put a copy of Steve Gladen's book into the hands of your small group leaders:
1. It brings the practices of one of North America's most visible churches to bear on the disciple-making opportunities of your congregation.
2. It promotes a bold goal for your small groups--to involve more people in weekly life groups than you see in a typical weekend service.
3. It gives you a campaign road map for allowing the pulpit ministry of your lead pastor to launch more new groups than you may have thought possible.
4. It focuses your leaders on what they are charged to produce--healthy disciples of Jesus--rather than simply on how they are to manage group meetings.
5. It shows how volunteers can be mobilized to host a group, even before they dream of becoming leaders in your ministry.
6. It uses Saddleback's five purposes as tools to involve every group member in leadership training.
7. It outlines an intelligent system for strategic coaching that provides an effective support system for your leaders, new and old.
8. It calls for developing a multitude of purpose driven Christians who will participate locally and globally in Rick Warren's incredible vision for a P.E.A.C.E. process.
"Steve Gladen sees growth happen year in and year out as he marshals support for the leaders of more than 3,500 small groups. This book relates his learnings from over thirteen years of his Saddleback experience. The wisdom he shares here is a gift."--Carl George, founder, Consulting for Growth, Inc.

"Steve Gladen's new book provides us with a pocket GPS to help us find our way to balanced and healthy small groups in the church. Designed by an experienced group administrator and facilitator, Steve's work reflects the wisdom that comes from living out God's emphasis on developing relational community and discipleship among his people. It also conveys an awareness of favorable routes that groups can take, which endorse God's plan for building up the church to become vigorously alive in Christ. The inclusion of illustrative stories and practical, realistic principles of operation make this an enjoyable read and an enthusiastic stimulator of purposeful groups."--Dr. Julie Gorman, author, Community That Is Christian; professor of Christian formation and discipleship, Fuller Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. Steve Gladen
    © Scott Tokar

    Steve Gladen

    Steve Gladen (MDiv, Fuller Theological Seminary) has been executive pastor of small groups at Saddleback Church since 1998 and serves as an elder of the church. He oversees the strategic launch and spiritual development of more than 7,000 adult small groups on...

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