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A great disappointment...
on August 5, 2006
I bought the unabridged audiotape version of this book, hoping to utilize some significant portions of road-trip time to learn more for my leadership role with our church's small group ministry. Though not normally a Cloud/Townsend fan, I was pleased to hear them introduce the book by indicating that they would discuss two questions that all church leaders are asking: how do we find more small group leaders and how do we train them. They proceeded to spend the next eight hours completely ignoring those key questions. I only wish they would have answered them.
Instead of offering strategic, visionary, thought-provoking advice for ministry leaders and small group leaders, Cloud and Townsend rambled on about how to deal with people's feelings and emotions. This type of book is exactly why I generally avoid books written by Christian counselors. I couldn't begin to count the number of times that they referred to feelings and emotions. While I know that emotional understanding is important to leading people in groups, there is so much more to it. I agree with an earlier reviewer who suggested that this book is primarily geared toward leading support groups. While important, that is only one type of legitimate group within the church. The title of this book presumes to be too broadly applicable, when their focus is very narrow.
I was also annoyed by their insistence on using the word "facilitator," rather than "leader." I think that every lousy group that I've attended resulted from the mindset of the leader that they wanted to facilitate and not lead. What groups need is passionate, committed, and competent leadership, not just facilitators.
As another irritation, despite the multitude of fantastic small group resources available, Cloud and Townsend did not refer to a single resource other than their own books. It's as if they feel specially enabled to speak with authority about small groups, and no one else in the world has anything to add. That's nothing if not arrogant.
Finally, they included innumerable scripts for precise wording that leaders should use within the group context. The suggestions that they offer are so wooden and trite that any leader who would actually say those things to people would yield nothing but laughter. It is so much more helpful to describe concepts and ideas, rather than pat one-liners.
The best part of the book came near the end, when they discussed the plague of spiritualization that often happens in Christian small groups. Those few minutes were very worthwhile, and I wished they had covered the topic more thoroughly (though they were kind enough to suggest that I read another one of their books on the topic!!).
Quite frankly, I would not recommend this book to anyone, with the possible exception of a support group leader. It was boring and lacked any substantive strategic help for church and small group leaders. Check out Donahue and Robinson's "Walking the Small Group Tightrope," Frazee's "The Connecting Church," or Willits' "Creating Community" instead.