The Real Reason Saddleback Connects So Many in Groups

By Mark Howell

Ever heard the stories about Saddleback’s thousands of small groups and wondered what they’re really doing?  Maybe you heard the rumor that with Decade of Destiny they launched enough new groups to break 5,000 groups for the first time.  Not 5,000 people in groups.  5,000 groups!

Want to know how they’re doing it?

I hint at the reason in one of my most popular articles (The Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% in Groups, written in 2009).  But looking back at it, I really don’t come right out and say what I believe is the real reason; the real number one reason that Saddleback connects so many in groups.

It’s actually pretty simple.  The real reason Saddleback connects so many in groups is that their senior pastor is the small group champion.  Rick Warren is the face of small groups at Saddleback.  He’s the one doing the talking.  Ramping up for a church-wide campaign (like 40 Days of Purpose or Decade of Destiny), he’s the one talking about the importance of small groups.  At all of their Christmas Eve services, he’s the one describing the benefits of a small group.  Even when he’s not in town, watch for him on video talking up the next opportunity to join a group.

We had the opportunity to attend Saddleback for almost 2 years while I was on the Lifetogether team.  Interesting factoid: Steve Gladen, Pastor of the Small Group Community, wasn’t on the platform once talking about small groups.  Want another?  Ron Wilbur, the Pastor of Small Group Operations, wasn’t on the platform once talking about small groups.  Who was doing the talking?  Rick Warren.  And seriously, when he was out of town on weekends they needed to say something important about small groups there would be a video of Rick Warren promoting it.

I’ve watched this for years and wanted to do a man-on-the-street piece interviewing people coming out of Saddleback’s worship center, holding up a picture of Steve Gladen and asking them if they know who this is?  Seriously!  When I’m in town for Radicalis I’m going to try and do it.  Why?  Because you need to see that when it comes to talking about the importance of grouplife…they’re pulling out the biggest gun they have!

And let me be quick to say, this is not about the fact that it’s Rick Warren.  He’s no grand-stander.  And it’s not about Steve Gladen or Ron Wilbur.  They’re two of the sharpest grouplife experts in the world.  The real reason Saddleback connects so many in groups is that their senior pastor is the small group champion.


Two people need to read this and react to it.

  • Small Group Pastors and Directors (Paid and Unpaid):  You may believe you’re the most passionate about grouplife.  You may be the one who’s studied all the books and read all the articles.  You might even have the seminary degree in spiritual formation.  Here’s the truth: You still need to know that when you are the face of small group ministry it cannot be a church with more people in groups than you have at the weekend service.  And when your pastor asks you to be the face of small group ministry, you need to know that they are delegating away the role they were designed to play.  Your senior pastor makes the best champion.
  • Senior Pastors: You may believe that you are simply relying on the strengths of the most passionate small group advocate, but you are really doing no one a favor when you delegate away the small group champion role.  You may even believe it’s biblical to appear to be on a team of equals and want to give visibility to others on your staff.  No matter.  When you’re not the small group champion, you cannot expect to be a church of groups, where nobody stands alone.

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Posted by sblubeck