Resource Review: "Finding the Flow"

Finally, a book on community life that is designed for group leaders

The past 10 years have seen an influx of big-name authors writing books specifically for small-groups ministry. Some examples include The Connecting Church, Walking the Small-Groups Tightrope, Activate, The 7 Deadly Sins of Small-Group Ministry, Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders, and more.

While most of these books contain very useful information and are genuinely helpful for churches running a small-groups program, you won't find reviews for them on SmallGroups.com. The reason? They are written for pastors and ministry directors, not small-group leaders.

That's why I was so pleased when I came across Finding the Flow.

Overview

The first thing you need to know about Finding the Flow is that the book is not prescriptive. You will not find "Five easy steps for dealing with conflict" or a clever acronym explaining the three stages of a group discussion. Neither will you find an attachment to a specific "model" of small-groups ministry (the book's forward was written by Joseph Myers, after all).

What you will find is a grouping of philosophies and skills that center on the foundational elements of Christian community: self-reflection, the stages of group life, listening skills, asking good questions, navigating conflict, developing leaders, and spiritual transformation. Each chapter of the book covers one of these key ideas.

Again, when I say the chapters "cover" the key ideas, I do not mean that Miller and Peppers explain their view of the best way to listen, navigate conflict, develop leaders, etc. They certainly give their opinions on each issue, as well as advice for certain situations. But the main goal of the book is to help readers identify the main issues and equip them with skills.

For example, one of my favorite chapters focuses on "Asking Good Questions" (one of my personal hobby horses). Miller and Peppers start by identifying the key issue:

When facilitators don't know the answer to a question, they are generally instructed to own up, admit that they don't know, and offer to find out. Then they research (usually by calling the pastor) and come back next week with the answer. Right? Except that it misses the point of small groups. They are not about answers. They are more about interactive experiences.
Small groups are not so much about the answers as they are about the questions. The facilitator should be asking far more questions than answering them. Questions form the skeleton outline of a group—the basic structure on which everything else hangs.

After identifying the main issue and approaching it from a few different angles, Miller and Peppers then equip their readers with specific skills that can be applied to a group setting. To help with asking good questions, for example, they explore the following skills:

  • Asking questions that intersect with Scripture
  • Trusting that group members will have meaningful things to say
  • Asking open-ended questions

Issues and skills—got it? Those are the core elements of Finding the Flow.

Strengths

  • The combined writing style of Miller and Peppers is clear and concise. There is not much wasted space in this book.
  • The book incorporates research and ideas from several different areas of study—including counseling, education, group dynamics, spiritual direction, and more. Miller and Peppers demonstrate a diversity of thought that is sometimes missing from books that focus on a single model or methodology.
  • Finding the Flow is filled with the personal experiences of its authors. Miller and Peppers effectively use stories to illustrate the issues and skills they find most important.
  • The book also includes several practical tools and useful ideas in the Appendix, which is pretty large compared to other books of similar size.

Weaknesses

  • Miller and Peppers shy away from a lot of the established buzzwords of small-group ministry, often preferring to substitute new terms instead. For example, they refer to small-group leaders as "facilitators." They explain their reasoning for these language choices in the book's Introduction, but readers could easily be confused by the terminology if they skip right to Chapter One (which I often do).
  • The authors are thought leaders in the fields of education and coaching, and they are obviously well-trained and well-read. Perhaps as a result, some sections of the book begin to feel like an academic text.
  • It will be tempting for churches to use this book as an instruction manual for new small-group leaders. However, doing so would probably be like asking someone to drink water from a fire hose. Finding the Flow is better suited for group leaders who have been "in the trenches" for at least a season, and are ready to explore the next level of life-changing community.

Summary

Here's what Sally Morgenthaler said about Finding the Flow in the book's endorsement material: "Community doesn't come with a manual. But if it's experience and wisdom you're looking for, Miller and Peppers have a ton of it. Using real-life examples, solid relationship principles, and hands-on exercises, Finding the Flow explores the dynamics of gatherings that thrive versus survive, and the facilitation practices that can help make the difference."

I heartily agree.

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