I had the privilege of meeting Eddie Mosley several years ago at one of the first Purpose-Driven Small Groups conferences put on by Saddleback Church. A mutual friend invited both of us to lunch before the conference started, and I enjoyed talking with Eddie so much that I had him speak about his experiences and passion for small groups on camera so that I could share it with the growing SmallGroups.com community. It was a great conversation, and I was excited when I went back to my room to edit the raw video.
But, alas, I was quickly disappointed. I had hooked up the mic improperly, and there was no audio—just Eddie moving his lips with no sound coming out. I told Eddie about my gaffe on the last day of conference, and he was gracious enough to re-do the interview.
All that to say: I know from experience that Eddie Mosley is a good man and a passionate pastor. But as I sat down to read his book, Connecting in Communities, I wondered if those qualities had infused the pages in a way that would make the material helpful for churches and small-group leaders around the world.
I'm glad I was not disappointed.
Here is the subtitle for Connecting in Communities: "Understanding the dynamics of small groups." Talk about ambitious! The ministry we call "small groups" has become so amorphous in recent years that I doubt an entire volume of books could help us understand everything.
Fortunately, Eddie is only interested in helping us understand the basic elements of what a small-group ministry should be.
That being the case, he starts with a brief overview of his own story and a quick snapshot of his ministry at LifePoint Church in Smyrna, TN. Thankfully, Eddie's attitude is not one of: "Here is what I have done in my church to launch a successful ministry, and here is how you can take the same steps to clone what I have accomplished."
Rather, the book starts off with a list of questions that pastors and church leaders must ask (and answer) before launching a community ministry. These questions are basic and practical, yet they pull no punches when it comes to forcing people to think about what they are trying to do in terms of small groups. Fellow reviewer Mark Howell wrote, "I really think for a lot of churches, this chapter alone would make the book worth buying." Agreed.
For example, imagine senior pastors out there being confronted with this question first: "Are you in a small group?" Boom.
The remainder of the book walks pastors and church leaders through the vital elements and decisions necessary for a successful small-group ministry. Here is a quick look at the chapters:
- Small Groups Impact Communities
- What Do I Do First?
- Pragmatic Strategy (Organization)
- Adapt, Don't Adopt (Assimilation)
- Sharper Than You Think (Leadership Development)
- Higher Thinking, Now (Curriculum)
Now What? (Developing Issues in Small-Group Ministry)
In the book's Forward, Bill Donahue describes Eddie Mosley as a "convener," saying: "He brings together people, ideas, strategies, and experiences from a range of group models and churches, adapts them, adds his own, and then shares what has worked."
Without a doubt, that is the strength of this book. It doesn't present a lot of revolutionary or cutting-edge ideas; rather, it outlines the best of what has worked for many churches over many different regions. And it talks about these principles in a way that is practical and down to earth. Those who read this book will think: I bet we could do this!
The book also does a good job of pointing out the challenges and false assumptions that often derail a church's experience with small groups. For example, I wish every church could get a good grip on the following advice from Chapter 2: "The journey of starting groups in your church is not a quick fix. A healthy church and staff team is, obviously, beneficial to any new opportunity's success. But the success is based on more than a healthy staff. It requires prayer, planning, relationships, and a culture that is open to trying something new."
Finally, because Eddie has "been there" as a small-groups practitioner within a church, he does a good job of highlighting the problems and difficult decisions that often slip under the radar with other groups-related material. For example, many churches and small-group leaders are regularly tormented by the need to find, acquire, or write quality curriculum—something that seems simple but is in reality a complicated process. Connecting in Communities does a good job of addressing that issue, along with several others.
Because Eddie is a practitioner, he often illustrates his ideas by using stories and experiences from his own church and ministry. This makes sense, of course, and is usually helpful in terms of explanation. But there are times when Eddie comes across as assuming that the decisions and practices of his church are the "right" ones.
For example, he advocates an apprentice plan as a method of helping groups multiply in a way that does not cause "heartburn, lost friendships, and sleepless nights." However, he does not seem to seriously consider that a church could opt for "closed" groups that do not seek to multiply or divide.
I also thought it was interesting that each chapter contains a section written for small-group leaders. The book as a whole is definitely geared toward pastors and ministry point persons, after all, and there was a bit of dissonance for me when the audience switched abruptly to individual leaders and then back to pastors.
Finally, because this book focuses on the basic elements of a small-groups ministry, there is a lot that gets left unsaid and unaddressed. Fortunately, Eddie does include a recommended reading list in one of the appendices that is very helpful.
If you are a pastor or church leader wondering how to implement a small-groups ministry in your church, Connecting in Communities is one of the books you need to dig into before you get started. It will help you, it will help your church, and it will help the people who eventually participate in every small group you launch.
If you have been doing small groups as a long time, I am willing to bet that this book will be a useful refresher—a way to objectively look at your ministry and ask: "Are we doing as well as we should be? What important elements are missing, and how can we add them?"
I hope you will see for yourself.
—Sam O'Neal is managing editor of SmallGroups.com.