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48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2010
These guys are experts at their model, and perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this book is that they make their model accessible and reproducible. Their approach to small groups is indeed novel in places and quite refreshing. For example, their discussion on covenants is valuable. I love that they give people relationships and responsibilities to help connect them to the church. Their discussion on enlistment techniques is great; perhaps worth the price of the book on its own.

Many of the other reviews have highlighted all that is great about the book, and I find much agreement there. However, there are a few areas of concern that should be pointed out. First, this is not an entirely new approach to small groups. For those of you from baptist backgrounds you may recognize the 12 week topic driven trimesters as something similar to discipleship training classes. This is not a bad thing. I find no fault with this set up. My perception is that the "entirely new" part of all this is in the details, not the model. We're a traditional midwestern church and have been using this model for fifteen years. Should have written a book.

Second, the book does not offer transitional advice for pastors of traditional churches. This is not necessarily a weakness, but the reader will need to find other volumes to aid in the transition process.

Third, Searcy and Thomas's model is not small groups in the...dare I say it..."tradtional" sense. Here is what I mean. Journey's small groups are curriculum driven, and (to use a distinction from Joseph Myers) these groups promote social relationships. Would you like to guess what we call a group that is heavy on curriculum and keeps relationships light? The answer is Sunday School. The current draw of small group ministry is their highly relational nature, curriculum being secondary, and their propensity to lead people into personal space, even intimate space (Myers again). The authors contend that small groups are not a place for intimate relationships, and they are right, only in relation to their model! Groups with a lifespan of only twelve weeks will never lend themselves to intimacy. While the authors work hard to keep their groups closed, the reality is that the groups are "relationally" open due to their short life spans. Again, there is nothing necessarily wrong with this. However, I take issue with their assertion that intimacy in groups is practically unattainable and unrealistic simply because their model is not designed for such. They do point out that intimacy is not something that can be forced or manufactured. I agree completely, but feel we must create environments that make it more likely to occur naturally.

Fourth, the authors do not speak to the place of children in small group life. This is a much needed discussion.

On the whole, I applaud Searcy and Thomas for their great work in reaching New York. God is blessing their church. It's exciting to see how the gospel is spreading through them. It makes me think that if the gospel can flourish in NYC surely it can flourish in the Bible belt. The book is definitely worth a read, but requires careful discernment for application.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Searcy and Thomas have written an outstanding book on starting or developing a small groups program within the local church. The material presented demonstrates a depth of insight that only comes from experience - it's easy to see how Journey Church in New York City went from a handful of people to over 1100 in worship attendance and over 1200 people in almost 100 small groups in just a few years. The book is easy to read, very well organized, very practical, yet gives the important `why' behind each of the main ideas presented. (I would characterize his other book Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church in the same way.) The material is covered in several sections within two parts: the Activate Mindset, and the Activate System. The first half talks about several novel principles and shares some solid insight in sidebars and examples. The second half is really nuts-and-bolts on how to apply this approach not just as a set of disconnected ideas, but as a complete system that can be put in place. It doesn't tell the reader what needs to be covered or try to set an agenda for the groups, so there is still a lot of freedom for application and customization of the system to best match the needs of the church.

Part One: The Activate Mindset
* Rethinking Small Group Methodology
- Think Inside Out... Not Outside In
- Think Larger... Not Smaller
- Think Friendship... Not Intimacy
* Rethinking Small Group Structure
- Think Short-Term... Not Long-Term
- Think Promotion Months... Not Ongoing Sign-ups
- Think Church of small groups... Not with small groups
* Rethinking Small Group Strategy
- Think Easy... Not Hard
- Think Ahead... Not Behind
- Think Full Staff Participation... Not Staff Specialist
* Rethinking Small-Group Leadership
- Think Apprentice... Not Expert
- Think Decentralization... Not Staff Control
- Think Leader Multiplication... Not Group Multiplication

Part Two: The Activate System
* Focusing Your Groups (with 5 Focus steps)
* Forming Your Groups (with 3 Forming steps)
* Filling Your Groups (with 11 Fill factors)
* Facilitating Your Groups (with 5 Principles)

Some may be put off by the subtitle `An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups'. That type of marketing line seems to be best left for readers and reviewers to decide, but the material in the book is not as self-promotional as the title. I had previously read several books by Donahue and others stressing being a Church of Small Groups (not with). What I particularly liked about Activate was that several foundational principles were in common with these other books, while several aspects of the approach were quite different - and Searcy and Thomas discuss the reasons why. (For example, the approach to sign-ups and promotion is different in the Activate system, but with a good rationale.)

I would strongly recommend that pastors and/or those responsible for starting or growing a small groups ministry read `Activate' in addition to the excellent books from other successful practitioners in small group ministry (e.g. Bill Donahue and Andy Stanley, including Building a Church of Small Groups: A Place Where Nobody Stands Alone and Creating Community: Five Keys to Building a Small Group Culture).
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
This is a powerful refreshing book on small groups. I have read it twice already and have it all highlighted with many new insights into my personal small groups theology. We have built our church on small groups here in NYC, and have read about every small group book there is.Many are pretty much the same.However, What makes this one different is that (1).It is in fact a radical paradigm shift!Many books I read are 80% things I agree on already. What makes this book better is that I actually learned a lot more than what I already agreed on. The idea of losing control is in istelf worth the book. (2).Nelson and kerrick are powerful practicioners in that they can articulate a plan of action in real steps and not only give you a "YOU NEED TO DO THIS" thesis. They actually give you a plan and a "Why", and PROOF that its worked. BOTTOM LINE: This is Simply one of the best books ever on small groups. Even if you dont agree on everything in this book, I promise you you will gain a lot from it. The price of the book is peanuts compared to the wealth of insight you will recieve. Thanks again guys, pastor Eddie Ramirez, Victory Outreach- Alcance Victoria Brooklyn, NY.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2010
I was asked to take over small groups when our worship/small groups pastor went to another church. After coming across this book I felt like it challenged traditional thinking in a positive way. I presented to our Sr Pastor then the Elders (with power point and handouts to be more effective) and they decided to give it a try. We went from 90 people in small groups to over 220 sign-ups. And since I'm the full time Youth Pastor, we did the same with our youth ministry. We had over 80 student sign-ups and we have never had more than 30 involved in small group within our youth ministry.

People were challenged and grew spiritually. We were able to see MANY people get involved that had never been involved before. And many became regular attenders instead of just monthly attendance. It is a great assimilation tool. And possibly the best thing we received out of it was a healthy leadership structure for staff and volunteers. The leadership structure from the book changed the way I run my ministry because it is so very effective.

One other thing that is a great benefit, is existing relationships form small groups do not have to be broken. It gives people the opportunity to sign up together in order to stay together. Yet at the same time people can try something else. Also, there is the serving together concept. Each of the 3 semesters the group does an evangelistic project, a fun night, and serves 2 times a semester on Sundays for church as greeters, ushers, and clean-up crew. Another way to connect people to the working of the church!

Definitely worth your time!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2008
Looking for a soup-to-nuts primer on small group ministry? For most churches, Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups by Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas will neatly fill that need. Unless yours is a large church (average adult attendance of more than 1,000), this will be a resource that will fill in a lot of blanks.

Covering the Journey Church methodology very thoroughly in 223 pages, Activate guides you from philosophy to implementation in a semester based approach. Is it an "entirely new approach to small groups?" No. Does that make it any less valuable? No again. Incorporating concepts from a variety of sources, the Journey approach is a neatly designed system that will work in most churches.

If you've attempted to construct a small group system the way you'd select food at a buffet, the wisdom of implementing a system will be immediately obvious. As the authors challenge in the introduction, "Read and digest this book. Grab a highlighter and work your way through the following pages. Make notes in the margin. Disagree with us, laugh at us or raise your eyebrows. We don't mind. Over the next 200 pages, we are going to show you a small group system that can consistently accomplish the goals we mention above."

I like the concrete, step-by-step approach of this book. If you're looking for a systematic approach, this is a good one.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2008
This is by far the best book I have ever read on building authentic and meaningful community in the church (and as a Pastor of 11 years - I have read a lot). After reading this book I bought four more copies for other people in my church to read.

This semester based system that Searcy and his staff has come up with makes complete sense and is something that any church no matter what the size could implement. Also what I like about this system is that it looks to take care of both the "attendees" and the leaders. Also, the focus on spiritual depth and being missional, makes the small group system very healthy.

I got the opportunity to spend a week at this church with Nelson Searcy for a Masters class and he is the real deal. If you are looking for something fresh in the area of small groups and a system that is simple and not overly complex, you need to check this book out.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2011
I've been involved in small groups ministry a long time - this is one of the top three books I'd recommend to anyone seeking to do small groups "right". Here's a little taste of what impacted me most as I read the book:

MY "TOP TEN TAKEAWAYS" ...

Part One: The Activate Mindset

Re-thinking Small Group Methodology

Big Idea #1: Think from the Inside Out ... Not from the Outside In

¡K traditional thinking says that the primary purpose of small groups is to move people from the Congregation to Committed and from the Committed to the Core. But what if we were to tell you that the most powerful potential for your small groups lies in their ability to move people from the Crowd to the Congregation? What if we were to tell you that your small groups system should be designed first and foremost for those who are not yet involved in them ¡V those who are not yet assimilated? (12)

Big Idea #3: Think Friends ... Not Intimacy

Small groups are not the place for your people to form intimate, meaningful relationships with one another. Instead, they are a place to form new, basic friendships. (20)

Re-thinking Small Group Structure

Big Idea #6: Think Church of Small Groups ... Not with Small Groups

Small groups are exponentially more effective when they stand alone, rather than having to compete with other church programs. (39)

Re-thinking Small Group Strategy
Big Idea #7: Think Easy ... Not Hard
One of the keys to creating a strong full participation small groups system is to make groups easy to get into and get out of. (48)

Big Idea #8: Think Ahead ... Not Behind

This small groups system allows you to always be preparing 3 to 4 mos. in advance for your next semester while you are successfully running your current semester (56)

Re-thinking Small Group Strategy

Big Idea #10: Think Apprentice ... Not Expert

Think about the churches Paul planted. Within a matter of months, he would leave a young church in the hands of new leaders, most of whom had just become believers. Paul trusted them. Or, more pointedly, Paul trusted God with them. So, how did Paul get these new leaders ready? What kind of requirements and standards did he put in place for them? Only one ... that they watch what he was doing and do the same. (65)

Big Idea #12: Think Leader Multiplication ... Not Group Multiplication

Instead of going in and breaking apart an existing, ongoing group in the name of growth, you let each semester run its course and identify new potential leaders for the next time around from those naturally ending groups. Then you will automatically have groups growing out of each other ... (73)

Part Two: The Activate System

Step 1: Focus - determine the philosophy, strategy, goals and calendar for upcoming sem.
Step 2: Form - recruit leaders, choose curricula and confirm day/time/location of groups
Step 3: Fill - promotion and sign-ups
Step 4: Facilitate - equipping and encouraging leaders

1. Spring Semester: Feb. to Apr.
2. Summer Semester: Jun. to Aug.
3. Fall Semester: Oct. to Dec.

Note that Jan., May and Sep. are the three months of the year that groups don't meet.

FOCUS

Focus Step #3: Set Your Goals
The primary aim of the groups system is not to bring new people into your church, but to get those who attend the Sunday service plugged in and connected. (99)

Never make the mistake of not having enough groups in place for everyone in your church to get plugged in. You can always combine groups if you realize that you¡¦re offering too many. (101)

FILL

Fill Factor #1: One-Step Sign-Ups
Big doors swing on small hinges. You can do everything else right, but if you don't polish the small hinge of how someone signs up for a group ... the door won't swing. From our experience, churches make one of two mistakes ...
1) lack of clarity; people say no to any proposition that is unclear;
2) too many steps (148 - 155)

Fill Factor #2: Teaching on the Power of Groups
... we make sure that we preach on the need to be in a group at least three times a year, once for each promotion month. (156)

... you should target how groups will meet people's needs, rather than just hitting the need to be in a group. (157)

Fill Factor #6: The Church-Wide Campaign
Every Fall semester at The Journey, we do a church-wide campaign, or integrated movement, where small-group discussions mirror and support sermon topics, and vice versa. Tremendous synergy occurs in a church when there is a single focus between the Sunday service and small groups ... first-time group members are more likely to sign up during he church-wide campaign semester than during any other semester. (169)

A church-wide campaign is the best way to initiate a brand new semester-based groups system. (172)

FACILITATE

Facilitate Principle #1: Training Group Leaders
... expect leaders to be facilitators, not experts ... managers of the group environment so that maximum life-change can occur. Train them with a half-day Group Leaders' Training event before the start of each semester (about 3 wks. Before the start of every semester) and through timely electronic training every week. (186)

Training cannot select leaders; it can only equip leaders. Allow the apprentice model to select your leaders, and once they are selected, train them well. (189)

Facilitate Principle #4: Conducting Monthly Facilitation
... group leaders should meet with their team leaders at least once during the semester to discuss how the groups are going and to talk through any issues that may have surfaced -- we call this meeting the Growth Group Huddle. The huddle can happen over dinner or in a short meeting following a Sunday service. (215)

Facilitate Principle #5: Conducting Semester Facilitation
We believe that it's important for groups to be involved in a planned evangelism project once a semester, either in place of or in addition to the weekly group meeting. Our most effective group evangelism project is always Servant Evangelism. We plan these outreaches strategically so that they'll occur just before a big day. (217)

Asking your groups to serve together at the worship service at least once a semester is a great way to integrate groups into the complete life of the church. (218)

Each semester, encourage your group to play together at least one time. Leaders should schedule the event for about halfway through the semester. (219)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2010
Activate gives a fresh and practical approach to small group ministry. This is what I took away from this book:
If you want to grow your small groups and your church, you have to intentionally target those who are not yet in the system.
Wrong Question: How do I get people to sign up again?
Right Question: How do I get new people to sign up? (p. 11)

Small groups are not the place for your people to form intimate, meaningful relationships with one another. Instead, they are a place to form new, basic friendships. (p.21)

Reshaping Small Groups as Places to Meet Friends
1. Have specific beginning and ending dates for your small groups.
2. Let your group leaders know what a group win is.
3. Promote your groups as a social space - a safe place to meet new people, make friends, grow in faith and have fun. (pp. 26-27)

Putting time boundaries on groups will facilitate more eager sign-ups and take pressure off the system. (p. 30)

Seven Advantages of Time-Bound Groups
1. A clear beginning and end date
2. Easier for people to make short-term commitments
3. Allows time for groups promotion and sign-ups
4. Easier for people to get into a group when everyone is starting at the same time
5. More group options - new topics offered each semester
6. matches the academic calendar year
7. Allows for the growth that comes through a stress-and-release cycle (p. 33)

Six weeks to a month before the time of your next group semester to begin, you will want to launch what we call the "promotion month." (p. 35)

Activate Principle: With every step you add to the sign-up process, you are going to lose a percentage of participation. (p. 49)

Activate Principle: Average leaders focus on what happens next. Extraordinary leaders focus on what happens after what happens next. (p. 55)

By learning how to Focus, Form, Fill and Facilitate, you will be able to effectively plan for the future without robbing and attention from the now. (p. 56)

Not only must the pastor be ecstatic about and fully participating in small groups, but every member of the church staff must also do the same. Period. (p. 60)

Step 1: Focus. Determine the philosophy, strategy, goals and calendar for your upcoming small-group semester.
Step 2: Form. Recruit leaders, choose curricula and confirm the day, time and location of all groups.
Step 3: Fill. Sign up people for groups through direct promotion. Give them the option to sign up at the Sunday service or online.
Step 4: Facilitate. Begin and maintain groups while equipping and encouraging leaders. (p. 81)

Activate Principle: Never ask someone to serve in any area of leadership without providing a beginning and end date for that service. (p. 118)

One-Step Sign-Ups ...Activate Principle: People don't join anything if it's unclear how they should do so. (pp. 148-149)

Activate Principle: Next to preaching on the biblical basis for groups, testimonies are the most powerful way to motivate people to join. (p. 162)

In your printed newsletter, be creative in promoting groups. Go beyond the standard words "you need to be in a group" and push and surprise people with something fresh. (p. 173)

Activate Principle: Every newcomer God entrusts to your church should receive a clear, heartfelt invitation to be in a group the coming year. (p. 180)

When the training event is close to the start of the semester, leaders are more inclined to want to learn how to lead. It's a fact of human nature. We don't usually learn what we need to learn until we have to. (p. 189)

The week leading up to Easter should be given high priority on all of your spring groups' syllabi. Some churches choose to give groups the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday off. Think of it as spring break for your groups. You can encourage people to use the time off to reach out to their unchurched neighbors and invite their friends to attend Easter services with them. (p. 221)

Activate Principle: If you take care of your group leaders, they will take care of your small groups system. (p. 222)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon December 4, 2009
This book contains a lot of contrarian wisdom concerning small groups for churches. According to the book, a successful approach to small groups must focus more on getting new people into groups than on optimising the experience of people who are already in groups. Successful groups should be larger (15 to 20 people) rather than smaller (6 to 8 people), and they should aim more for friendship than intimacy.

Small groups should be short-term (10 to 12 weeks) rather than long term (18 months to life). They should be heavily promoted before the start of each season, rather than lightly promoted all the time. There should not be any other church activities which compete with small groups. Signing up should be an extremely easy one-step process. Each season should be planned several months ahead, and each staff member must be involved in small groups.

The book contains plenty of other wisdom, and it seems to me that most of it is right on the mark. In my own experience it has been very difficult to have a consistently good small group experience with fewer than 8 members. In a typical church the barriers to getting into small groups are too large for newcomers, and too many small groups are "toxic", in the sense that they have been around for too long without any challenge and without anyone's life being changed. The book is essential reading for anyone who has an interest in small groups.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2010
This is a great book that helps the church get people connected. By being connected, people will grow in Christ and come to a place of transparency with their fellow believeres.

I particularly think the section on the importance of friendship is important.
I thought the idea of promoting small groups at certain times of the year instead of in an on-going way made a lot sense.

Because leadership development is important to me (see my book: Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church), I thought the section that emphasized Leader Multiplication instead of Group Multiplication was very insightful.

In the second section of the book it talked about how to focus the groups, fill the groups and facilitate the groups, which are three important components of a successful small group ministry.

Well written. Worth investing the time to read it.
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