An Interview with Ben Reed, Author of Starting Small

Ben ReedEnergetic, passionate, committed, relentless: these are just a few of the words that describe Ben Reed.

Ben is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow Baptist Church, a great faith community just outside of Nashville, where he is rethinking and restructuring group life. Before that he served as the groups pastor and then executive pastor for a church plant that grew to over 2000 in weekly attendance.

But more important to me than his impressive resume is that I have the privilege of calling Ben a friend, and I am excited to introduce you to his first book, Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint.

So Ben, for as long as I've known you, you've been a prolific blogger.  What made you decide to write a book?

I felt like I had more to say than a series of blog posts could handle. I love blogging, but I was ready to be able to carry a sustained idea a little longer than a blog can. 

The value of blogs is that they’re short and to-the-point. My book, though it’s intentionally short (70 pages), is a lot longer than you’d ever want to read on a blog post.

I love writing, and I really make sense of the world as I flesh my thoughts out that way. So the book was as helpful for me as it ever will be for anyone else.

You write about how your love of small group ministry comes out of your own experience in a group and the impact the group had on your life.  As I read it, Starting Small is about systematizing that type of experience so that others can have it too.  Other than picking up a copy of Starting Small, what advice would you have for folks who are just beginning to lead a small group ministry?

Grab the best leaders you know. Not necessarily the most spiritual, the ones who have been following Jesus the longest, or the ones that know the most Bible, but the best leaders. The ones that people want to follow.

And ask them to journey through life with you in your small group. Invest in them. Help them grow. Let them experience authentic community, see the beauty and power in it, then deploy them to lead as you coach them through the process.

That's good. Find the people with the most leadership capacity, and walk with them until they're spiritually ready... sounds kinda like making disciples. :)

In Chapter 2 you point out that few of us can name 10 sermons that impacted our lives but that we can almost certainly name 10 people who have invested in us.  How can we help our group leaders become not just meeting facilitators but people who are making a significant investment in the lives of the people in their groups?

Help them see that the value of groups is not found in completing a curriculum, checking a box that says you “met,” or in coming to all of the right trainings.

The value of a small group is in people taking steps of faith together.

And when you see groups doing that, celebrate it!

Because what’s celebrated is what’s replicated. So when you “catch” someone doing the right thing, let them, and everyone else, know it.

I love that. Let me say that again in case anyone missed it.

Groups are about people taking steps of faith together, not completing the curriculum, and if you want more people to take steps of faith together, celebrate when it happens.

Okay, I should probably step down off my soapbox now.

In Chapter 3 you talk about the importance of a senior pastor in group life.  If he or she is bought in, the congregation will notice.  And if he or she isn't, the congregation will notice. What advice would you give to small group directors/pastors at churches where the senior pastor isn't fully invested in small groups?

Find a new church. :)

No, seriously, your church needs you. Don’t give up! Invite your pastor to join your group. And don’t put the pressure of leadership on them, or expectation that they’d wear their pastor hat every week. Just let them be themselves. Let them be a follower of Jesus on a journey, just like everyone else in the group.

As they see lives changing around them in the group, and as God changes their own life too, their sermon illustrations will change from being generic “I’ve heard a story of a guy that…” to, “In my small group this week…” That’s a powerful shift.

It is. Nothing communicates the value of group life like stories or even just mentions of group life. It's invaluable.

Speaking of sermons and church services, one of my favorite parts of Starting Small is in Chapter 5 where you offer a critique of modern worship services as hyper-individualistic.  If you were designing a church service from the ground up, what would you do differently?

I would strategically use Sunday mornings as an on-ramp for community. Link the small group questions to the sermon. Tell the congregation that you realize all questions, concerns, and hang-ups can’t be answered here. And tell people constantly that what’s best for them is not that they’d just sit there and soak in, but that they (no matter where they are on their spiritual journey) can be used by God in huge ways to impact the people God’s brought into their lives.

Ben, thanks for spending a few minutes with us. If you haven't gotten a copy of Starting Small yet, be sure to order one.  It would make a great gift for the small group lover in your life.

While you're at it, be sure to keep up with Ben on his blog, Life and Theology, as well as on Twitter.