Sunday, November 25, 2007

Interview with Teena Stewart

Getting a small group off the ground is a difficult practice. I should know. After our successful group "birthed" many years ago, we two couples floundered (many others came and went) around for something like three years before we regained a successful group. (And now, when we are way past time to birth again...the memories are too strong to go for it!) So....when I had the opportunity too see about this new book: Successful Small Groups from Concept to Practice by Teena Stewart, I jumped on it.

Here's what Teena has to say about her book:

Why would a church need this book?
Some churches already have small groups in place, but most could benefit from more
coaching tips in order to improve how their groups are managed. Many want to know how to launch more groups but aren’t necessarily aware of what they are doing well and what needs to improve.

Other churches may have only one or two Bible studies and they desperately want to
provide more but they just don’t know how. Sometimes churches are unaware they need
small groups. My hope is that this book makes leaders more aware how important they
are. Small groups are an indicator of a church’s health. Groups act as a sort of surrogate
family and way for Christians to support each other. But they also provide a means of
growing more leads and equipping people for ministry plus providing a strong Biblical

How does this book differ from, say, a book that tells how to lead a Bible study?
It’s much more comprehensive. A book on how to lead a Bible study would focus
more on the ins and out of the lesson, how to teach scripture, the materials. That’s all
very important. But it might not address additional information that will help their groups
stay healthy and develop leaders. Groups that focus on Bible study alone, often miss
areas where they could be supporting members and helping them grow. The subjects I
cover concentrate on helping groups stay well-rounded.

Why did you write this book? What do you hope readers will take away from it?
I’ve been in church ministry for years and have worked shoulder to shoulder with my
husband, Jeff, who is an ordained minister. We’ve lead a number of small groups and I
have done several on my own. It has been a sort of learn-as-you-go process. And, like
many leaders, we’ve made mistakes. I think people often write books as a way to
encourage other leaders and equip them and that is why I wrote this one.

God has made me an equipper and so it’s only natural that I want to help people succeed
and grow to maturity. As a matter of fact, I write a regular equipping column through called Purpose-filled Ministry.
But, to get back to the book, the book starts out talking about how parents share info and
give advice to their kids because they want to spare the hurts of making costly mistakes. I
went through the same thing while working on this book. If I can help leaders get there
sooner and avoid certain pitfalls, if I can help equip them so that they equip other leaders
and develop more groups, then together we can bring more people into God’s kingdom
and that’s what it’s really all about.

I’ve heard people say that this book is very different from other books they’ve
read on small groups. What sets it apart?
Sometimes I think I should have been born in Missouri, the “show me” state. I’m a very
visual person. I learn by seeing. I have graphic art training along with writing training. So
I tend to gravitate toward showing people how something is done so that they don’t have
to reinvent the wheel when trying to learn something new. I haven’t seen any small
groups books that include the visual examples I have. I’ve included flyers based on real
materials small groups I know of have used to state their purpose and core values and to
promote their groups. I’ve included samples of group names to show the importance of
having a good group name and stress the creative factor. I also have forms and
questionnaires that help people determine where they and their groups are at and what
work areas they might have.

It’s all very practical and can be adapted to suit their needs. It’s not meant to be a onesize-
fits all, but it does help give them the visuals and really reduces the amount of work
they have to do.

What are three benefits of participating in a small group.
Well, there are a lot more than three but some of the key ones are that we are not
designed to try to make it through life on our own. We need some sort of support
network. Though we may attend church, most of us at a Sunday service don’t really have
time to connect and share our deep needs. So small groups provide that caring

They also provide a training ground for people to learn God’s Word. We might think that
people really know their Bibles, especially if they attend church, but the truth is, people
are less and less familiar with scripture. So small groups provide a great learning
environment where they can study together, ask questions, even tough questions and go
out into their every day lives with some Biblical foundations to use as guidelines for
raising families, responding to work situations and interacting with other people.

Finally, small groups provide a safe environment where people can share needs and hurts
and pray for each other. Again, there just isn’t time at a weekend service. People barely
connect. And the larger the congregation, the more isolated they will feel, so small groups are crucial for providing that sense of belonging. If people feel they belong and they matter, they will be more likely to linger and make the church their home for the long-haul. It’s usually the people who aren’t connect who become what I call members who are missing in action, who come for a while and then disappear.

What advice would you give a church that is seeking to launch small groups or
may have a small group program that is struggling?
If you don’t already have small groups, it’s really important to get your core leadership to understand and buy into the concept. Launching groups without preparing the soil will make it more difficult your small group program to be successful. I’m not saying it won’t be, but having your core leadership behind you is crucial. People need to see the benefits of the groups and you have to get everyone on the same page. It needs to be a campaign. I cover this in the book.

If a church already has groups but they only have a few and those are struggling, again, it
is probably because the congregation doesn’t understand the value of them. Before
people will commit to something like a small group they have to see successes and what
is in it for them. Having existing group members share some of their stories and how
their groups have helped and impacted their lives is a great way to spur interest. I can’t go
into all the details of how right now, but I cover it well in my book.

Your book contains examples of successes and struggles from real life groups.
Can you talk a little about those?
Some of it is taken from my own person experience with groups and others examples are
from groups from a variety of churches. The challenges a group faces depends on that
particular group. Every group is different. But there are still some things the crop up that
many groups have to deal with. I have examples of some of these common things. Such
as how groups have had to multiply after growing to large, stories of how groups have
decided when to close down, discussions about problem group members, samples of what
affinity groups are. (Those are groups that are specifically tied into a topics, such as
recovery groups, craft groups, sports groups, etc.

Your book includes a trouble shooting section. Why did you feel that was
As much as we want to believe that all groups are healthy, sometimes they aren’t or
sometimes they might experience turmoil due to problems a specific group member has.
Sometimes it is caused by needy group members who dominate a group. They can suck
other group members dry to the point that the group members may even dread going. Or
some members may talk too much. The more members you have, the more the chatty
group members eat into the time that other might want to share.

There are a lot of other examples of group challenges that I cover. I suggest ways to deal
with them.

Was there anything new you learned while writing this book?
Yes. I would have to say I have. I used enter into leading a group asking what I could
give back to members. But now I have to say that I see that it is often reversed. Over the
past few years I have benefited from group members who have blessed me and taught
me, even though I was the group facilitator. So, it’s important to remember that just
because we might be in a leadership position, there is still plenty we can learn from our
members who pour out their care and their wisdom on us. It can truly be a surprise
blessing and it can be humbling.

What experience do you have as a small group leader?
Let’s see. I have helped lead a young-marrieds group when we were newlyweds, a
parenting teens group, several couples group. I helped multiply a couple’s group and
launch a new group from that group when one group got too big. And, more recently, I
have facilitated a women’s group. It was my first time doing a women’s group and I
absolutely love the dynamics. We are very close. I have also worked along-side my
husband, Jeff who served in a discipleship pastor role, developing groups as well as
group leader workshops.

You and your husband have recently left traditional church ministry to start a new ministry that might involve small groups. Can you talk a little about that?
Sure. Over the past few years we’ve noticed how people gravitate to coffee shops and
we wondered what the big deal was. Why would someone pay four bucks for a cup of
coffee. But then we began to see that it wasn’t so much the coffee as it was the relaxed
and intimate environment. People feel comfortable in coffee shops and you see them
gathered informally in small groups. God kept speaking to us telling us that it is often
easier to connect with people in the market place—such as coffee shops—than to try to
bring them to church. Churches are knocking themselves out trying to come up with new
ways to get people into their buildings. We felt that maybe it was time to shift and try to
make the coffee shop the venue. So we’ve done something crazy.

We put our house on the market and sold it in order to start a coffee shop in Hickory, NC
where we hope to connect with unchurched people and use it as a hub for launching small
groups. We’ll also be using music for outreach as well. Again, it’s about the small,
intimate environment where people feel safe to connect. We want to reach the people
who would not come to church and we don’t expect them to come to church.
We are having to raise our support for the ministry aspect and to have a place to live
because we don’t have enough after selling our house for both. Crazy. I know.

Where is Successful Small Groups: From Concept to Practice available to
Local Christian bookstores such as,,, or call Beacon Hill Press (816) 753-407.

Where can people learn more about your ministry, including your coffee shop
Thanks for asking. They can go to

And, of course, you can buy the book right here:

1 comment:

Pat said...

Jamie, Great interview. I wasn't aware of this book, but look forward to reading it. I'm another small group author, and it looks as if we share a similar approach. Do come visit my blog at Thanks for sharing this info.