Sometimes Big Things Start Small

Brett Eastman's story about the development of small groups at Saddleback church.

After five years of championing small groups at Willow Creek Community Church, Brett Eastman shuttled his family westward to Orange County, California. He was hired at Saddleback Church and figured he would pick up where he left off at Willow.

But Saddleback was not Willow. In this interview, Brett Eastman, founder and CEO of Lifetogether, talks about the difference between the churches and what he learned during his tenure at Saddleback, when the church connected more than 20,000 people into small groups. He also provides pastors with key principles for launching a healthy small group ministry—within the scope of their current budget!

You've been inside both churches. What's the difference between Saddleback and Willow Creek?

I get asked this all the time. And I summarize it in one word: Resources.

Bill Hybels and Rick Warren share a common passion for connecting every member in their congregation into community. However, Willow Creek is five years older than Saddleback and is located where land and housing costs are vastly different.

At Willow, we hired more than fifty small group staff members. The staff resources allowed us to put more than 10,000 people in small groups before I moved to California. Today the ministry is healthy, one of the most developed in the country. It's no surprise that they raised almost 80 million dollars for the 7,000-seat auditorium that they just built. Willow has resources, period.

It seems intuitive that so does Saddleback, right?

When I conveyed my vision to Rick Warren about small groups, he simply said that there was no way the church could hire a boatload of staff to launch the small group ministry. I was given a few administrative staff members and only one pastoral position. There ...

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