Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups
My Rating – Probably Not Worth Your Time
Level – Easy read, moderate length (reads quicker than its 300 pages)
The subtitle pretty much sums it up, though I’d quibble with the ‘new’ part. Activate is Searcy’s system for running/managing small groups. The book is broken into two parts, The Activate Mindset and The Activate System. The former is his attempt to ‘challenge’ existing ‘beliefs’ on small groups and is broken into four sections (all of which begin with Rethinking Small Group) Methodology, Structure, Strategy, and Leadership. Each of these is broken down into chapters which he calls Big Ideas, of which there are 12.
The System is also broken into four sections – Focus, Form, Fill, and Facilitate. Again, each of these is broken into further chapters, each one being a step or guiding principle to the subset of his system.
I picked this book because I am a small group leader, though not one that would fit his definition, and I also thought it could be helpful for our Community Pastor, who is a little newer in his role. The title is a little (unintentionally) misleading. I thought it was going to be the groups that were being activated, made stronger, more engaged, etc. However, activate is the name of his system for signing people up for groups. I guess it is people you are activating.
Overall, I was disappointed in this book. To be fair, maybe it was revolutionary 10 years ago, when it was originally published. That’s when I finished grad school, got married, and first attended a church that did small groups. My church in high school had Sunday School, so there weren’t small groups. My current and former church do not have Sunday School, and instead work entirely with small groups. So, all of his ideas in the Mindset part of the book might have been new then, I don’t know how groups were typically run prior.
That being said, many of the ideas he proposed as being the prevailing thought really seemed to be strawmen. I seriously doubt anyone pastor believes that sign-ups should be complicated (compared to his ‘big idea’ that they should not). Now, many pastors may not put much effort or thought into sign-up and they end up being unnecessarily complicated, but that isn’t how he presents his arguments.
The second part of the book, the System, is fairly interesting and has a many good points and practical steps. However, this is only true if your small group fits his definition, which is a group that meets 10-12 weeks to study a specific topic or read a particular part of the Bible. My church offers these, but also offers deeper groups that stay connected for years, as many other churches have and are often called home or community groups.
So, if you have the topical side, his ideas for roll out, launch, and general marketing principles are great. The authors clearly have a good mind for marketing a practical actions steps for achieving goals. I think most pastors could learn a few things, or least use this to augment their current system. If you are looking to change, relaunch, or start this type of small group, this book would be one of the few that would be worth grabbing and reading before putting together your strategy. This is particularly true if you are a seeker church or a very large church.
Now to the problems, this book really left me with a strange feeling. I’m sure the authors are caring pastors who have come up with a system that they think is the best and are genuinely excited to get it out there to everyone else. Everyone knows people like this, those high energy endlessly positive people, that’s how I imagine these authors. However, I don’t think it translated to the written form. Far too much of what is written comes off as a sales pitch. It doesn’t help that Searcy markets his other books eat least once a chapter or so, and tells you to go to his website on every other page. At points it started to seem like an infomercial.
I’m a cynical guy, so in an attempt to see the positive, I went to his website thinking maybe he put everything out there. While there are few free downloads, most of the site is selling his other books or his ‘coaching’ services and subscriptions. Honestly, it is a bit off-putting. There is little discussion in the book of making disciples, but much about growing numbers, both total and participation percentage. Two particularly egregious sections come in the book on page 93 where he states that the best investment you can make in your staff is to hire him for small group coaching and again list his website. The second is on page 147 where he lists the different types of leaders – group leader, team leaders (who manage a number of group leaders), and group coaches (who manage a number of team leaders). He lists the requirements of each of these people and under group coach he states they must have ‘an unshakable commitment to the activate system.’
Again, I don’t know these people, and I’m fairly confident they are just pumped about their system, but much of the book rubbed me the wrong way. It was just far too much of a sales pitch, that included what seemed like upselling. Like I said, there are parts I think you can find helpful if what you are doing matches their groups and you have the same goals/type of church as them. However, if you don’t fit nicely in or you already have fairly successful groups, this book is probably not worth your time.
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review