Making Small Groups Work: Review

small groupsA while ago someone put me on to this book and it’s taken me a little while to get through – not because it’s hard reading, but because, well, I didn’t really like it. There. I said it.

It’s written by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. I’ve enjoyed Cloud’s other stuff and so had high hopes. Unfortunately the whole thing ends up feeling like it’s pushing a therapeutic model for small groups (perhaps no surprise since Cloud is a psychiatrist).

Much of the book I could agree with – groups enable people to grow, and good groups provide connection, support, structure, prayer, accountability, mentoring, modelling etc. All true. And good group leaders facilitate discussion, listen, and set appropriate limits. Again, all true. Yet there’s plenty of good literature out there that addresses all this stuff already (and in some cases better). Here’s a few sample chapter titles from the section ‘Responsibilities of Group Facilitators.’ This might give you a flavour of that which makes me squirm:

  • Facilitate Process
  • Provide Safety
  • Clarify and Ask Questions
  • Confront
  • Set Limits
  • Allow Silent Moments
  • Interpret Themes, Symbols, Meanings

Aaahh. Noooo. Let me off the couch. I’m white, English, and middle-class – get me out of here! Ok, so I have a cultural problem with groups as therapy – they’re American and easy with it; I’m English and I’m not. More important though are two burning questions I have. First, is this what a church small group should be – an opportunity for counselling. Maybe, to some degree. And they do have a little material on the more ‘traditional’ elements, but the weight of the book makes the whole thing feel like small groups are therapy groups. Second, where am I going to find people to lead these sorts of groups. The book makes it feel like you need a whole bunch of Henry Clouds. The rest of us have not a clue what we’re doing and may do more damage than good.

I hate writing negative book reviews, but perhaps this one is simply to say, if you’re looking for something to read on church small groups your time and money would be better invested elsewhere (eg. Steve Gladen, Larry Osborne, Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson).


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