Bill Donahue at the Building Biblical Community video shoot

Former small-group pastor and small-group pioneer Bill Donahue recently addressed the notion of “story” at Bill has been involved—one way or another, as group member and leader, at smaller churches and Willow Creek alike—in small groups for a long time. The only conclusion we’re left to draw is that he’s managed to pick up a thing or two during his association with the more-than-20,000 groups with whom he has been in touch.

The post, Learn How People Are Shaped By Their Stories, describes the path to be taken from isolation to community that begins with a close examination of one’s story. This notion of my own “story” and how it continues to play itself out in my life was introduced to me early on in my tenure here. Admittedly, initially I was somewhat skeptical about what appeared to be a very self-centered approach to discipleship. In fact, in some ways it seemed to run counter to everything I thought I had been taught. But over the years I’ve come to understand the role my story plays in my life, the impact it has, and how God continues to reveal not only truth about who I am through a careful examination of my own story, but also the truth about who He is, through such as examination. Bill’s post calls attention to both of these by products.

As small-group leaders we should always been mindful of the many stories represented in the room. The cumulative effect of these stories contributes to our understanding of God, ourselves, the ways we relate to one another, the way we process external events and circumstances, and our own conclusions about the world around us. One of the reasons “The Question” is so significant in group life is because only through a great question can we begin to re-construct the story—the role the enemy has played, plot twists and turns, disorientation, the heroes and villains. Sure, discussion is great and keeps us engaged, but the ultimate goal of any group must be transformation. What Bill is describing in this post, most importantly, is a means to transformation through the story God is revealing through each of us.

For additional work in this regard check out Robert Mulholland’s Invitation to a Journey and The Deeper Journey. We also have several resources specifically created for drawing our stories out into the group space—certainly not for the timid, but perhaps the most redemptive exercise in small-group ministry—in the Canvas series we created with Pete Wilson and the MORE series inspired by Ron Keck. We also took great lengths to integrate this model for transformation in the God + the Arts series (Finding Jesus in the Movies, Finding Redemption in the Movies, Finding the Larger Story in Music).

I’ve heard it said that we are “always being spiritually formed.” It’s true, either we’re being spiritually “re-formed” or “de-formed” throughout our days and weeks and months. One of the seminal points in Syd Field’s book Screenplay is this: “know your story.” God as the ultimate and final teller of our stories knows this … and He is inviting us to join Him.


And so here we are in another Holiday Season. As a kid it seemed like it took forever to roll around again. When the air got cold it meant just one thing: an honor roll of holidays, school breaks, presents, and the promise of a warm respite from the cold, blustery exterior every afternoon. I loved it then and I love it now. Even though some of the promises have changed, the magic of this time of year (I won’t talk of January and February just yet) remains electric.

One of the transitions from where I was as a child in western Kentucky to my role here with LifeWay Small Groups is embodied in what the team “new year” has come to mean. Then it meant some new classes and a new date on the top right-hand side of a test paper. Now it means a new pipeline, new small-group experiences, and new resources. We’re really excited about what we’ve got in the pipeline in 2011—but it begins now. We’ve got two new Life Connection studies in progress. We just released our first small-group experience on the topic of social justice. Seek Social Justice is not about convincing you to be active and give, but about equipping group members with the tools for making a difference. And in January we’ll release Building Biblical Community by Steve Gladen and Bill Donahue. We believe this small-group study will become a staple for groups, new groups, and mature groups alike for years to come. Building Biblical Community has been created to help groups members know what it means to be in a celebrating, learning, loving, and serving community—that is, how to be a great group member. We’ve also got two new releases in the popular Platform Series scheduled but, shhh, I can’t give away who we are working with just yet. (I’m thinking about waiting to deliver the news during a live broadcast on ESPN.) And of course we’ll deliver 4 new studies in the Small Group Life series: Kingdom, Awaken, Connection, and Cacophony

The Small Groups Guy recently posted LifeWay Is Back on his blog. It’s great to see this kind of affirmation out here in the blogosphere. As LifeWay Small Groups celebrates its 1st anniversary this season, we’re celebrating both the rich legacy that Small Groups Guy references and the coming years.

Bill Donahue and Steve Gladen. Photo courtesy of @warriorriver.

Last week we wrapped up the filming for the DVD portion of Building Biblical Community, a new resource scheduled to release at the end of the year in time for January campaigns, new-group launches, and new beginnings. Building Biblical Community owes its concept to authors Steve Gladen and Bill Donahue, two of the most notable names in small-group leadership over the last decade. Bill and Steve have more than 50 years of small-group leadership experience at Willow Creek and Saddleback respectively.

Given that this is the first time that Bill and Steve have collaborated on a resource, we were all a little uncertain about how the dynamic would work once we got the cameras rolling. Although they’ve known each other for several years, this is the first time these two leaders have come together to create a small-group experience—and the 2-day video shoot went better than anyone could have dreamed. Not only did Bill and Steve deliver the goods in terms of the content and the small-group experience, but they also hit a wonderful on-screen rapport beginning at the first countdown through the bonus material. Your groups are going to love the spirit, interaction, and heart that these two leaders were able to convey.

What the Donahue/Gladen team has created is a small-group experience to help groups understand the dynamics of being a true, authentic biblical community. To achieve this, according to our authors, groups must become a celebrating, learning, loving, and serving community. Drawing from tried and true biblical principles, examples, and experiences, Building Biblical Community is not only perfect for new groups and church campaigns, but also for groups that have yet to hit the sweet spot—or else stalled or even sinking. We’ll be writing more about Building Biblical Community here at the Gypsy Road over the next several weeks and I’ll be posting more about how production is coming along both here and through Twitter (@bcdaniel).

In this short video we captured a little bit from our authors about their first experience working together. I just wish I could have gotten either a photo or a video of Steve riding in my Jeep Wrangler with the top off. Now that was a sight.

I just came across a recent post at Bill Donahue’s blog titled Community as God’s Central Program. In this post Bill hits on some very strong tenets of community and the value of community not only to our culture, but for our theology as well. Opposing a “concordance approach” to understanding God, Bill uses Stan Grenz as a jumping off point for merging the core ideas of community and kingdom of God. He concludes:

Restoring the relational core to our theological understanding of the Kingdom will create an environment for guiding one another into truly redemptive relationships with God and others. And it will dramatically influence the way we “do church” for decades to come. That’s my hope.

It seems that the practice of inter-dependence has been lost within a culture of self-reliance. From the earliest ages we’re challenged to be anything but dependent—which when applied correctly is very healthy, but taken to extremes can lead to isolation. The notion of “truly redemptive relationships” referenced above must become part of our small-group DNA. Give this post a read and consider the implications. You can read the the whole post by clicking here. Follow Bill Donahue on Twitter at @bdonahue80.

Summit banner

I’m really excited that we will be hosting The Summit: A Convergence of Small Group Experts.  This an event that might be the first time in history these amazing small group leaders have been on the same stage!!  To make it even better, it’s online so you can participate no matter where you live and it’s FREE.  Our very own Rick Howerton will be moderating this Town Hall styled forum and discussing the history, trends, and future of small group ministry.  We are taking questions so you will have a chance to present any issue you are dealing with to the architects of the modern small group movement and hear them respond and provide solutions they’ve seen work in churches all over the world.

The speakers are 9 of today’s most well-known leaders in small group ministry and the next generation’s rising stars – Lyman Coleman Bill Donahue, Steve Gladen, Randall Neighbour, Carl George, Bill Search, Reid Smith, Greg Bowman, and Eddie Mosley

Be sure to register and plan on taking part in this amazing experience.  If you are a ministry leader, forward the information to all your group members so they can get answers to some of their most pressing questions too!

I am a Twitterer.  I tweet therefore I am…

1) instantly alerted to new small group blogposts

2) learning of and connecting with other small group types not daily but minute by minute

3) constantly receiving info telling me of a new small group book that has been published, a small group conference that has just been announced or a concept that a small group peer just thought of

4) asking a question and getting multiple answers back within minutes from other small group pastors and gurus

If you’ve been considering twittering but have been saying things like, “I’ll go into that kickin’ and screamin.” it’s time to put on your steel-toed boots and enter a sound-proof room. Or maybe your phrase has been, “I’ll start twittering when I become one of those nerdy tech types.” Buy an iPhone, replace your PC with a Mac and get a t-shirt that announces, “I Tweet.”   Or maybe you’ve been saying, “When I have time I’ll join the twitter movement.” You may find out, like I have, that being a twitterer may save you time as you are constantly getting the answers to your questions (or being directed to a blogpost or article that can) in 140 characters instead of having to read an entire book.

Because I long to learn from everyone doing good small group ministry, I am constantly working to build my small group tweep list. Below you’ll find 48 small group pastors and gurus that I am connecting with through Twitter. If you’re the small group point person for your church and you don’t see your name (these are in alphabetical order) and you twitter, please, oh please send me your twitter account name so I can follow you by responding to this blogpost. Another option…. go online and follow me (rickhowerton). When I get your request to follow my tweets I’ll choose to follow you.

Feel free to use this list to build your own. I think every person on this list would be honored if you join this network of gifted small group aficionados.

















































If you’re a church planter, you know how difficult training small group leaders can be. Getting everyone together is nearly impossible, not to mention how busy your schedule is. If you need to help your leaders know how to plan a meeting in a matter of minutes, there is a way.

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend small group leader training. That’s right. Even though I train small group leaders myself I still attend the training others are doing. I learn an immense amount of information and add new tools to my own small group leader tool box every time I do.

 This weekend I learned from one of the best, Russ Robinson. I had seen Russ from a distance as I had attended Willow Creek Association small group conferences for years but had never had a chance to get up close and personal with him. I am indebted to First Baptist Church, Weston Florida and the Florida Baptist Convention for making that possible. Friday night before Saturday’s training event a cluster of people the size of a small group gathered around a table for dinner. For over two hours Russ answered questions. The questions ranged from handling awkward small group meeting moments to how to, with wisdom and sensitivity to the church a pastor leads, move your church toward change. Having been a small group leader, a small group pastor, an elder, a senior pastor, and presently a layman (Russ is a successful attorney) giving his life to his local church, Willow Creek Community Church, he has perspectives and understandings few will ever acquire. Not only is he one of the most diverse church leaders in the training world today, Russ is also an author having co-authored three small group books, Building a Church of Small Groups: Place Where No One Stands Alone,  Walking the Small Group Tightrope: Meeting the Challenges Every Group Faces, and The Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry: A Troubleshooting Guide for Church Leaders. All three of these outstanding books were co-authored with Bill Donahue. Russ loves small groups (Watch the video and hear him tell why he loves them so much.)!

 Russ has one of the most concise and effective ways to plan a meeting of anyone I’ve seen. He suggests that, when planning your meeting, you focus on goals over content. In order to do so, when preparing for the meeting, simply answer four questions, each related to a different aspect of the human experience, Head, Heart, Hands, Homework.  After answering these four questions determine what you will do to accomplish what has been determined.

During the training event, Russ gave us time to answer these questions. We chose a passage of scripture and were asked to prepare for a small group meeting. In three minutes almost everyone in the room had created a small group meeting that would be transforming. That’s right, in three minutes you could create the best meeting you’ve ever had by answering four simple questions. What are these four amazing questions? Here you go…

 Head: What do I want my group to know?  

Heart: What do I want my group to feel?

Hands: What do I want my group to do?

Homework: What do I want my group to plan?

 Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you!

P.S. If you’re a church planter and want to find out how to do small groups effectively and also hear from some of the most highly renowned church planters and small groups leaders in the country, come join us at Exponential, April 20 – 23, 2009 in Orlando, Florida.