The Small Group No One Wants to Miss
[First 3 chapters]
Ch 1: A Tale of Two Small Groups
Imagine the scene: You’re driving home from a long day, tired and hungry. You can’t wait to get the last of your responsibilities out of the way so you can finally kick back for a minute. Then it hits you. It’s whatever night of the week, and you have small group. For a moment you’re disappointed, but you shake off the feeling before it takes root. You’re a Christian after all!
Community isn’t something we do. It’s who we are, you tell yourself. A Christian cannot be fully realized outside of community. It is only in the community setting that we’re able to love, to be patient, to practice the “one anothers” of scripture. Then you check the group text and see that group has been cancelled.
How do you feel? Don’t bother answering. I already know how you feel because I’ve been you in that scenario enough times for the both of us. You feel relief mixed with a little guilt that you’re so glad you get the night off.
Now imagine this scene: You’re tired and hungry just the same. You’re on your way home, longing for a chance to relax when it hits you. You have small group, but in this scenario, you’re too excited about it to be bummed that you won’t get to relax. You’re excited to see what God might do tonight. You heard about what happened last week when you had to be somewhere else, and you won’t be missing out like that again.
I’ve been in both scenarios before. I’ve lead groups that we’re going just fine, but sometimes getting my family to them after a long day of work was a hassle I’d rather pass on, and the occasional week off was a guilty relief. I’ve been a part of other groups where there was a simmering excitement about gathering. Why? Because we knew God was going to do something at the meeting. We knew we would be leaving full, fulfilled, maybe even awestruck. Those groups tended to meet something like 52 weeks a year. Yes, even on the week of Christmas, someone would invariably send out a text, inviting everyone over, not because they felt guilty for missing a week, and certainly not because the group leader was pressuring them. It’s simply because they loved gathering.
I know it’s only the first chapter and I’ve hardly proven that I’m a die-hard bible believing Baptist, but I’ll go ahead and share that in the 52-week-per-year small group, people were sometimes physically healed of pain and sickness. People were set free from life-long sin struggles and addictions, and people began to hear from God.
The groups didn’t focus on growing, but they did. One week, a young lady visited the group and asked for prayer. We began to pray for her as we would for anyone who asked, and—to make a long and rather intense story short—she stopped hearing “the voices.” She explained that she’d been hearing three different voices, one in the left ear, one in the right, and a terrifying man’s voice directly behind her. In tears, she praised God as her deliverer and savior. We joined her and sang loudly to God. We didn’t do much else that evening.
She visited because her roommate knew she needed help, and she had a hunch that her roommate could get that help at our small group. Why did she have that hunch? Because she had had a very different but very powerful experience only a few weeks before.
The next week, guess how many people skipped group. It was a full house, and we had a 2-hour-long bible study about spiritual warfare in which everyone was vigorously taking notes, asking questions, and loving the Bible.
What’s the difference? What makes one small group good and another something no one wants to miss? The answer, in this author’s humble opinion, is that the method behind one group is to program good, biblical things like eating together, discussing the bible, praying, sharing deep struggles, etc. all for the purpose of building a gospel-centered community. When done well, this results in a good group. A group you would invite a friend to, and I want to go on record as saying, that is great, and the church can serve its people well with groups like these. But there’s another way. Call it another option for small group. The method behind this other option is to focus exclusively on pursuing intimacy with God, and this other option can lead to a small group no one wants to miss.
Initially, it may sound like splitting hairs to say one group focuses on community and one group focuses on intimacy with God. Undoubtedly, a person leading a small group that focuses on community would say that he or she is leading their group toward intimacy with God. The two groups, however, operate quite differently.
Imagine another scene: You show up to your community-centered group at 7pm on a Tuesday. The first portion of the evening is gathering around a meal. Your previous group used to text back and forth throughout the week, organizing who would bring what food item. This group is a little different. Everyone brings their own food for simplicity sake. Either way, you gather around the table, with some folks in the living room and eat. The discussion is unstructured. The point is simply to build community.
At some point the leader calls everyone to order. You move from the table to the living room, and the leader gives announcements about things going on at church, and the leader reminds everyone that next week we’re meeting at a restaurant instead of in the living room. The point is to create a neutral atmosphere into which you can invite a friend, coworker, classmate. You think about inviting your neighbor. The point of this is two-fold:to further build community by sharing a meal together and to invite an outsider into your community.
The leader begins the discussion by asking a few questions about the sermon. The questions are good and thought provoking. Well, one of them seems a little forced, but anyway, people share. People discuss. Some people laugh. One person cries. It’s a good night. The point of the discussion time is to be open and vulnerable because when people are open and vulnerable, lives get changed, and community deepens.
At some point the leader transitions to taking prayer requests. In your other group sometimes during the discussion time, people would pray for each other. This group sets aside time at the end to pray. You take prayer requests and begin praying. The point is that a community that prays together stays together. Not to mention, you believe God is all powerful, so you ask him for things. In an ideal world, you get to pray for all of the requests. In reality, the kids start losing it, and everyone bustles out the door, another successful small group on the books.
Since the focus of the group is to build a gospel-centered community, the elements of the evening are geared toward that end. The other option for group, the intimacy-with-God option, is built quite differently. There is no meal. No unstructured hangout time. No week at a restaurant. No discussion questions from the sermon. So what’s left? What happens during the 2 hour gathering?
Imagine the scene: You show up at your intimacy-with-God-centered group at 7pm on a Tuesday night. Before the meeting starts, everyone is hanging out and talking. The leader gets everyone’s attention and people fill in around the living room as the leader asks what God has been doing in your life throughout the week that you can all celebrate together. A few people share.
After the celebration time, the leader says that there’s one goal for the evening, that you spend time in prayer together. It doesn’t matter how long or short. No one seems to notice this announcement because the leader says it every week. Everyone knows it by now.
Then a number of things could happen which are all prayer related and will be covered in detail in the other chapters of this book, but basically, the group prays for various things the entire time. Yes, the group prays and ministers to each other for 1.5 hours. Then at the end, the kids start losing it and everyone begins bustling out the door, but not everyone leaves. A few people hang back to keep praying for a person who is in tears.
At this point you may be wondering how a group could possibly pray for that long. You may be thinking of your own group and deciding that a prayer group like I’ve just described may work for people like us but not for your group. This is exactly why I’ve written the book. This book is a guide to building the kind of group that can not only pray for 2 hours but also love it. And we’ve seen people get swept up into this kind of group that were sparse attenders to the other kind.
Before getting into the HOW of building this kind of group. We must address the WHY. Community-based groups have a strong biblical foundation. To suggest a change from that kind of group to what is basically a prayer group would require some biblical defense. So let’s begin.
Ch 2. A biblical argument for replacing your community group with a prayer group.
Today’s community-based small group is built on an idyllic description of community that we find in Acts 2:42 and 44. First, we’ll look at those two verses and discuss the programming they inspire, and afterward we’ll discuss the glaring omission from that programming and what it means for small groups.
Acts 2:42 says this:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
From this straight-forward account we see “teaching,” which in the small group time involves a discussion about the sermon. Some groups do book or bible studies. Some listen to sermons together, all in the interest of being devoted to the apostles’ teaching.
We see the “breaking of bread,” and verse 36 includes “in their homes.” This is a large part of the reason why small groups often have a meal together. The other part of the reason is that eating is a communal activity that promotes community.
We see that they were devoted to prayer or “the prayers.” This models for us that prayer should be a part of the healthy small group. Anecdotally, it seems that prayer is often the part that is most lacking, except perhaps for evangelism.
Then in verse 44, we see that they “had all things in common” to the effect that no one had any financial or material need. This inspires small groups to seek to be generous with each other. Many groups have a weekly question asking if anyone has any physical needs to be met.
Before we address the major omission, which I certainly didn’t forget about, we need to skip down to verse 47, which says that “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Therefore, the typical small group also includes a missional component, hence the once-a-month meeting at a restaurant to which group members can invite a friend. Additionally, some groups have a monthly or quarterly service project that the members engage in together. Community and mission.
These components of community seem like an air-tight model for what a typical small group—and maybe even church—should look like. The method of programming that this passage has inspired can be seen in the table below.
Generosity (all things in common)
We program the five components because we believe those 5 components are what biblical community is made of.
Now for the glaring omission!
The bulk of the components come from verses 42 and 44, but verse 43 includes a potential component as well.
“And awe[d] came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.”
This verse is about miracles. If the surrounding verses indicate what our community should be built on, why don’t we include signs and wonders in the typical description of community?
The answer is simple. We don’t include signs and wonders because we can’t program them. We understand that miracles are God’s business, and we’re correct about that. However, that means that we consider the other 5 components to be perfectly natural things that we can do on our own, to which I say, “not so fast, cowboy!” What if devotion to sound biblical teaching, devotion to the breaking of bread (unity and community), devotion to prayer, radical generosity, and effective missions (God adding to our number daily) are also impossible to pull off without a miraculous intervention from God?
If you’ve ever gone to a prayer meeting at a church of--oh, let’s say--500 people, and you’re one of only 10 people to show up, you know that the whole community of believers being devoted to prayer would basically be a miracle. Now I’m just getting snarky.
To get the full picture of community painted in Acts 2:42-47, we have to recognize what happened immediately before this sunny description of community. The Holy Spirit was poured out for the first time. This monumental occurrence on the day of Pentecost comes conspicuously right before this ideal picture of community.
Additionally, in Acts 4, the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit a second time, and again, we see an ideal picture of community immediately following, and guess what is also included in that description--signs and wonders. Based on these two passages, I argue that the list of 5 components should be expanded to include signs and wonders. However, we should stop assuming that they are programmable elements that lead to community and realize that they are actually the fruit of a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit.
Therefor, the program/outcome table should look like this:
Move of God →
Signs and Wonders
But there’s an obvious problem with the table now. We can’t program a movement of the Spirit. We can’t exactly shine the bat signal into the sky and make God show up at our small group meeting. If we could, there’d certainly be no need for this book.
The only thing a group can program that could lead to a move of God is a simple gathering focused on pursuing him. When we do that, we are basically doing what the bible calls “seeking” him, and we can hope that he will “be found” as Is 53:6 says. Or perhaps we could call that pursuit “drawing near to God” as James 4:8 says, and we hope that he will “draw near” to us.
This is where the singular focus of pursuing intimacy with God comes in. If a group pursues community, it will set up structures to try to make communnity happen, but prayer and mission often get overlooked. If a group pursues mission, it may do a lot of good work, but mission-focused groups often lack prayer and theological depth, and they’re exclusiv to families who have the time flexibility to do the mission work when the mission work is available to be done. If the group focuses on pursuing intimacy with God, however, the group ends up getting all of the other elements as the byproduct of the pursuit.
The prayer group no one wants
At this point, you’ve heard my argument for an intimacy-with-God-centered small group which is basically a prayer group, and you may have a deep recoiling at the idea. That wouldn’t be a surprise because--well--there’s a bit of an elephant in the room when it comes to prayer groups. This book lists strategies to develop a small group no one wants to miss, but prayer groups can all too easily become the prayer group no one wants at all.
Imagine the scene: You show up to your small group house and the room is alive with talking and catching up. Then the group leader calls the meeting to order and everyone sits in the living room. The leader asks for prayer requests (this is the most common community prayer device after all), and the prayer group no one wants begins!
Jeff shares about his aunt. She’s sick. You’ve never met her, so it’s hard to be--as Jesus often was--moved with compassion, especially since Jeff doesn’t seem very concerned either.
“Okay, we’ll pray about that. Who’s next?”
Sandy has a test coming up. It’s not a big one, or maybe it is.
“Okay, we’ll pray about that. Who’s next?”
Then a little silence. That’s fine though. There’s nothing wrong with a little pensive Christian silence. It gives the next person a chance to shore up their request. You have something to share, but you’ll wait for the “right time,” but you’re not quite sure what that means. That’s when it gets real. William shares that he’s been wrestling with anxiety.
He shares about work, and a situation with his boss. The situation sounds pretty rough. People are interested. Then the advice starts. People share their own experience with something like that. People ask clarifying questions. Someone gives a piece of advice that sounds really good.
William says, “Yeah. That’s so good.” Then someone starts sharing some advice or maybe it’s a story. The point is hard to find and the person meanders from here to there giving biblical sounding advice and suggestions, but they talk and talk. Then a lull.
“Yeah. That’s so good.” William says again.
“Okay, we’ll pray about that. Who’s next?”
Now that everyone’s warmed up, everyone starts sharing their requests about what they’re going through, and everyone is giving advice. Lots of concerned and convictional advice. Then it happens, the moment no one was waiting for.
“Okay, who wants to pray for Jeff’s aunt?” Jeff’s aunt? That was like 40 minutes ago. A little more pensive Christian silence. Then Tiffany raises her hand.
“But what was the problem again?” Tiffany asks. Jeff explains again, this time more briefly.
“Okay, who wants to pray for…” The leader goes back through the list, and everyone snatches up a prayer request, asking for a quick reminder of what exactly it was that was the problem. Each person explains their issue again, this time more briefly.
Everyone bows their heads and Tiffany starts in about Jeff’s aunt. Then the kids start coming in and disrupting. To their credit, they did really well for the first hour of the prayer group when everyone was just talking and offering advice. Now that actual praying is finally happening, they’re restless, and so are you.
The scene can end in a few ways, either everyone starts rapidly praying through the requests one at a time, getting louder and louder as the kids start making their demands and as people start getting up to go to the restroom and such. Or the savvy leader calls it, and says he or she will send the prayer request list to the group so you can cover these requests throughout the week. Then everyone bustles out the door, another prayer group that no one wanted in the books.
To recap, the small group no one wants to miss is basically a prayer group that focuses on pursuing intimacy with God. The leader does not program anything except activities that directly relate to that pursuit. There is no meal, no evening at a restaurant, no outreach event, no unstructured community building time. God provides the power that makes community, outreach, and generosity happen, and God provides that supernatural x-factor that makes people hungry to come back.
So far, we’ve discussed why a small group should be built around the pursuit of intimacy with God. The rest of the book will explain how.
Ch 3: A Theology of Gifts and the Church in 8 Paragraphs
This chapter lays a little necessary groundwork about the gifts of the spirit for the group to be built on. This book assumes that you believe that all the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Cor 12 are active today. Even If you’re not theologically convinced of that, this book can still be useful, as it gives a thorough look at how these gifts can be implemented in a biblical and balanced way. Therefore, even for the person who remains unconvinced, at least this book will give a peak into how it might look in a group that is convinced that the gifts are for today.
Detailed how-tos for healing, prophecy, and tongues (yes, we’re even going to talk about tongues!) can be found in the following chapters. This chapter is a brief discussion of what the gifts are as they pertain to the church and to your small group.
The spiritual gifts are often thought of almost like accessories to an otherwise normal Christianity that a church can take or leave depending on tradition or organizational structure. However, there is an interesting correlation between community and the gifts that can be seen in 1 Cor 12 and Romans 12. Every bible-believing Christian agrees that each Christian is a member of the body of Christ. We believe this because 1 Cor 12 and Romans 12 teach it in plain language.
The interesting thing about both of these passages is that both directly link the spiritual gifts to the concept of the body of Christ. In fact, both passages go even further. Both passages primarily teach about spiritual gifts, and the part about being the body of Christ is only an illustration to the greater lesson about gifts. In both cases Paul essentially says that each person is given a gift so that the person will have a specific ability, making them similar to a body part with a specific function. In short, Paul didn’t write either passage because he wanted to teach the recipients about being the body. He wrote about the body of Christ because he wanted to teach them about the gifts.
Therefore, any church or small group that believes it is part of the body of Christ should expect and courage the gifts. A church or small group that doesn’t encourage individuals to use and grow in their gifts is not able to operate as a healthy body. Ironically, in many cases it is a desire to stay “healthy” that drives leaders and church members to avoid the gifts (specifically the more supernatural ones like prophecy, tongues, and healing), but it is that very avoidance that leads to an inability for the church or small group to truly function as the body of Christ.
Is your small group a chore? It could be because the only gifts that are allowed to operate are teaching and hospitality with maybe some mercy and maybe some generosity. Perhaps you or the person next to you has been given the gift of prophecy for the building up of the church, but that gift is not being used. In that case, your group is like a person who can’t see--not because there’s something wrong with their eyes but because they simply haven’t opened them.
To be a church or a small group that fully realizes its function in the body of Christ, the gifts must not only be believed in but taught on, encouraged, and expected. And when you see someone exhibit a gift, celebrate it!
It is important to remember the focus, however, and it’s not the gifts. If the main focus is gifts, you will get some gifts. You might even get a lot of gifts, but you’re not guaranteed a healthy group. In fact, if the focus is gifts, you can pretty well assume your group is going to end up being very unhealthy. But if intimacy with God is the main point, then God himself will pour out the gifts as a tool to get your group closer to him in intimacy, and the common pursuit will overflow in health.
[Completed Proposal: Proposal length 9,600 words]
Working Title: THE SMALL GROUP NO ONE WANTS TO MISS
Genre: Religious nonfiction; Leadership
Length of Manuscript: 50,000 words
AudienceChurch leaders, Small group leaders, and members of small groups in the Acts 29 movement and the Baptist denomination.
About the Author: Dustin is a pastor of an Act 29 Baptist church in downtown Fort Worth, a cancer patient fighting the fight of his life, and a 10-year veteran of starting and leading small groups. He has a master’s degree in Linguistics and a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in writing.
Writing is a large part of Dustin’s professional and hobby life. In his work, Dustin writes blog posts, position papers for church, copy for internal and external emails to ministry leaders and participants. He writes sermons and other teachings. As a hobby, he has written two plays that were performed at a private school in North Texas, and he has written a 60,000-word novel in the Magical Realism genre.
In leadership, Dustin has started and led a college ministry a youth ministry, and multiple small groups using different models, including one that he has pioneered. He is currently gathering a core team with the intention of starting a new church in East Fort Worth. He oversees the prayer team at his church as well as three other small groups.
“Small groups are not a program of the church; they are the church – it’s where takes place.”
- Rick Warren, Saddleback Church
The quote above gives you a picture of just how important the small group is to the life of the church. There are three trending questions among leaders and members of churches in the Acts 29 movement and in the Baptist denomination: “What’s wrong with our small groups?” “What’s wrong with our prayer meetings?” And “How are we supposed to see the spiritual gifts expressed in our church?” It’s likely that many who are asking those questions don’t realize how interlinked they are. Small groups and prayer meetings are staple ministries of churches in the two networks, and they both end up on the top of the list of ministries that aren’t producing what the church needs.
The topic of spiritual gifts in Acts 29 and Baptist churches has become a hot one in the last 10 to 15 years. This can be seen in the popularity of the Convergence Conference, held every other year in Oklahoma City, and by the popularity of Sam Storms’ books on the topic.
Many books, sermons, seminars on the topic of small groups and the spiritual gifts exist. However, none link the two topics. Additionally, none offer the candid, serious, and sometimes humorous approach to these to married topics that THE SMALL GROUP NO ONE WANTS TO MISS offers. It speaks directly to the three trending questions and gives biblical answers as well as candid commentary and even word-for-word examples of things leaders can say to make their small groups exciting, their prayer groups lively, and the spiritual gifts a normal part of the life of their church.
I am not qualified to write this book because of any seminary course or certification. Rather, it is by experience, risks taken, battle won, and battles lost that I am qualified to write this guidebook. I have started and led small groups for the past 10 years, and during that decade, I’ve taken the risks that many small group leaders would not want to take to discover a way to reinvent a small group and a prayer group around the biblical expression of the spiritual gifts. My experience gives me first-hand accounts to draw from to give other church leaders, small group leaders, and small group participants a risk-free glimpse into the seemingly risky world of reinventing a small group around these gifts.
The best news is that the reinventing of these groups does not require a multi-gifted, charismatic leader, only a leader who is willing to do and say certain things that are outlined in plain language in the book.
II About the Book
Small groups are things that trick us into believing we’re serious about making disciples. The problem is 90 percent of small groups never produce one single disciple. Ever .
-Brian Jones, Senior Pastor Central
Though small groups are a crucial part of the church, they are not producing what church leaders hope they will. The goal of THE SMALL GROUP NO ONE WANTS TO MISS is that church leaders, small group leaders, and small group participants will see how doable it actually is to create a small group that is not only healthy but exciting. Readers will benefit from getting to peek inside a small group they’ve likely never seen before, one that normalizes and encourages spiritual gifts. Leaders will benefit from getting to read word-for-word examples of what a leader can say in situations that they’ve likely wondered how to handle. For example, when we pray for healing, and it doesn’t happen, what do we do? What do we say? Those questions along with other questions that many are afraid to ask about prophecy, healing, tongues, and spiritual warfare are answered candidly, scripturally, and with real-life examples.
Why is there a need for this book?
First, church leaders, small group leaders, and group members need to know that another way is possible. For the better part of a decade, small groups have been under scrutiny for their ineffectiveness. THE SMALL GROUP NO ONE WANTS TO MISS simply shows that it’s possible to do groups another way, a way that makes the group exciting, engaging, and long- lasting.
Second, readers will get a sneak peek into how the gifts can actually work in their church. As the number of Acts 29 churches along with Baptist churches begins to grow in the area of believing in the continuation of the spiritual gifts, a great need for simple how-to resources is becoming more and more necessary. THE SMALL GROUP NO ONE WANTS TO MISS is uniquely positioned to be a strong resource because I provide 14 years’ worth of examples along with tried and proven methods. The book will be a handbook for the leader to work through, not just to gain knowledge, but to gain practical tools.
Third, Church leaders want real-life strategies for reinventing their small groups and/or prayer meetings. This book will show biblical arguments and practical steps that any leader could follow toward a stronger small group. Church leaders are trying to figure out how to get their small groups to truly be “where church happens.” Anecdotally, a 500-person church that I’m close to held a church wide survey that showed that the church was 98% engaged in small groups, but of that 98%, only 3% reported that they enjoyed their small group. This great chasm is what THE SMALL GROUP NO ONE WANTS TO MISS aims to bridge.
Fourth, anyone who believes in the continuation of the gifts but is reluctant to start taking “risks” by encouraging those gifts in the church setting can get a risk-free look into how those gifts can be used in a way that checks out biblically.
Specific reader benefits include the following:
A keeper book. Because this book is a handbook, providing practical tools, readers will keep the book as long as they lead their groups, referring to it as needed.
Grace for others. This book gives a look into the kinds of strange things others might say or do in a small group, and it provides the types of loving responses a leader can give.
A candid approach to touchy topics. I’ve already received feedback from some early readers that they appreciate my mature and sometimes humorous candor when it comes to handling topics like prophecy, healing, tongues, and spiritual warfare. They say that it takes the constrictive weight off of these topics that our church culture has placed on them. Readers will be able to engages with these topics in ways that they may never have before.
Insight. Many church leaders, small group leaders, and small group members don’t recognize that the conventional modal for groups is based on a community-centered model, but there is opportunity to reshape a group by making it an intimacy-with-God- centered model. This insight will be revolutionary for small group leadership.
Helpful Features Include:
Word-for-word examples of things leaders can say to move a group toward prophecy, healing, tongues, and spiritual warfare
The 10 Tools of Corporate Prayer, which a leader can employ to make a prayer group strong and healthy
A Step-by-step method for casting demons out of a person’s life.
Examples that teach how to deal with the strange things Christians might say
Examples of how to deal with a wolf in sheep’s clothing
What series potential exists?
Other books in a series could be as follows. The titles don’t fit with the current title, but the book ideas are as follows:
Evangelism that works
Deliverance that works
Inner healing that works
Preaching that works
Prayer Meetings that work
The Small Group that Works
The Supernatural Small Group
Spiritual Gifts and Your Small Group
What’s Wrong with Your Small Group?
III About the Market
There are two main niches that THE SMALL GROUP NO ONE WANTS TO MISS will sell to: people interested in the spiritual gifts and people interested in small groups. One of these includes a major market opportunity.
There is a glaring market opportunity for books about spiritual gifts that are specifically marketed toward the Acts 29 and Baptist subgroups. The trick is that it’s only glaring if you know what you’re looking at. An Amazon search for books about gifts of the Holy Spirit returns over 50 titles, but the vast majority of authors are either Catholic or part of a large church movement known as the Charismatic movement. Catholic authors and authors from the Charismatic movement are held in suspicion if not outright contempt among Acts 29 and Baptist churches. In other words, few if any of the sales of the top books on spiritual gifts are to people in Baptist or Acts 29 churches.
Baptist and Acts 29 churches, however, are increasingly interested in resources about spiritual gifts. This topic has been growing in popularity for the past two decades, starting slowly with the rise of Mars Hill church in Seattle in the early 2000s and with the release of the 2005 book by Sam Storms titled Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist. The problem/opportunity is that there are almost no resources other than those from Sam Storms that address this topic specifically to the Acts 29 and Baptist groups.
The following are books about gifts of the spirit written by authors that are accepted in either Acts 29 or Baptist circles along with the Amazon sales ranking for each book:
The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life, by Billie Graham – Sales ranking overall: #47,003
Practicing the Power: Welcoming the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Your Life, by Sam Storms – Sales ranking overall: #57,673
The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts by Sam Storms (2013) – Sales ranking overall: #79,258
Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship by Andrew Wilson – Sales ranking overall: #140,511
The Spirit-filled Small Group: Leading Your Group to Experience Spiritual Gifts by Joel Comiskey – Sales ranking overall: #1,401,309
Understanding Spiritual Gifts: A Comprehensive Guide by Sam Storms (2020) – Sales ranking overall: #58,280
The second category of book that THE SMALL GROUP NO ONE WANTS TO MISS fits into is books about small groups. The small-group book category is an ever-present niche with built-in demand, especially in the Baptist and Acts 29 worlds because both worlds are actively starting new churches. Those new churches will always be on the lookout for resources on starting and leading small groups, as both worlds believe that small groups are a crucial part of the life of the church. The demand is also present for preexisting churches for the same reasons. Groups are crucial, and they always seem to need to be retooled, relaunched, and replaced.
Frequently, books about small groups are purchased in bulk by churches to have their small group leaders read. Many churches even make the reading of such books part of the small group curriculum, meaning the church purchases enough books for not only the leaders but for the small group participants.
The demand for books about small groups has created a need for THE SMALL GROUP NO ONE WANTS TO MISS because this book is the only one to directly link the life of the small group to the expression of the spiritual gifts.
The following are the top 5 selling small group books on Amazon along with 3 other books that were instrumental in the Acts 29 movement’s concept of small groups that thousands of churches have been using (and struggling with) for the past decade
Top five on Amazon:
In Mixed Company: Communicating in Small Groups and Teams by J. Dan Rothwell – Sales rating overall: #45,788
Making Small Groups Work: What Every Small Group Leader Needs to Know by Henry Cloud and John Townsend – Sales rating overall: #71,558
The Fundamentals of Small Group Communication by Scott A. Myers and Carolyn M. Anderson – Sales rating overall: #165,389
Small Group Facilitation: Improving Process and Performance in Groups and Teams by Judith A. Kolb – Sales rating overall: #214,786
Leading Small Groups That Thrive: Five Shifts to Take Your Group to the Next Level by Ryan T. Hartwig, Courtney W. Davis, and Jason A. Sniff – Sales rating overall: #260,595
Three influential books to church small groups:
Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support by Brad House – Sales rating overall: #637,311
Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities by Jonathan K. Dodson and Brad Watson – Sales rating overall: #1,038,690
The Gospel-Centered Community: Study Guide with Leader’s Notes by Robert H. Thune and Will Walker – Sales rating overall: #351,210
Because of the hole in the market for books about spiritual gifts directed to my target audience, and because of the implicit need churches have for well-formed small groups, my book has real market potential for the following groups:
People who belong to the ACTS 29 network (740 churches worldwide)
People who belong to the BAPTIST denomination (~40 million members worldwide)
People who attend the CONVERGENE CONFERENCE (more than 5,000 each year)
An article in Publishers Weekly reports that books about spiritual formation are “on the rise,” and Kathryn Helmers, who manages Creative Trust Literary Group, says that today’s Christian reader is looking for “an ethos that values experience over knowledge, authenticity over authority.” Additionally, the same article reports that Christian book buyers are interested in diverse representation. As a Mexican American, writing an experience-based book that seeks to overturn a decade-long mindset toward small-group leading and a century-long mindset toward the gifts, it seems that my book is well placed among the upward trends of the day.
IV About the Competition
With over 50 titles about spiritual gifts and over 40 about small groups, there are plenty of resources that in some way compete with my book. As stated above, most of the titles about spiritual gifts are written by either Catholics or people from the Charismatic movement, neither of which are authors that people in Acts 29 or Baptist churches trust to speak on the matter. Likewise, most titles about small groups come at it from a different angle than my book addresses.
Currently, there are 43 titles about small groups that appear on an Amazon search for books on small groups, and as you will see in the next section, only one appears to address small groups from the similar angle as THE SMALL GROUP NO ONE WANTS TO MISS, but it does not address the same target audience.
These books have sold well and compare to my title:
Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support by Brad House. Crossway. 2011. This book delivers practical advice for starting, maintaining, and reproducing small groups, based on Brad House’s experience running the small group ministry of Mars Hill Church, a mega-church with multiple campuses based in Seattle. My book differs in that it specifically argues for a different small-group model than the one Brad House submits, one based on prayer and the exercise of the spiritual gifts as opposed to focusing on community-building activities.
Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities by Jonathan K. Dodson and Brad Watson. GCD Books. 2014. This book gives practical advice for building small groups, centered on being missional, which means that the groups are outreach-driven. The book gives this advice through experience and theological argument. My book is different in that it argues for a prayer- and spiritual-gifts-centered small group as opposed to the model given in Dodson and Watson. My book gives a theological argument for and practical advice for building a group focused on prayer and the exercise of the spiritual gifts.
The Gospel-Centered Community: Study Guide with Leader’s Notes by Robert H. Thune and Will Walker. New Growth Press. 2016. This book is a devotional-style resource with 9 lessons that a small group can go through together to become what the book calls a Gospel-centered community. It outlines some activities that a group can do together, but it is mostly theology-based, and the activities outlined in the book are similar to those of the previous titles because they are community-centered. My book is different because the models of small group are different. Thune’s book focuses on community-centered activities, whereas mine spells out prayer- and spiritual-gifts-centered activities.
These books are similar too, in that they appear when searching for books about gifts of the Holy Spirit:
The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life, by Billie Graham. Thomas Nelson. Reissue 2000. This book is Graham’s take on certain aspects of the Holy Spirit, such as what it means to “walk by the spirit,” and how the “fruits of the spirit” can be seen in a person’s life. The fruits of the spirit, however, are not the same as the gifts of the spirit. The content is starkly different than that of my book because Graham’s book does not address the individual gifts of the spirit, and it says nothing about small group leadership.
Practicing the Power: Welcoming the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Your Life, by Sam Storms. Zondervan. 2017. This book is one part systematic theology of the gifts, arguing that they still happen today, and it is one part personal guidebook for opening one’s self to the practice of the spiritual gifts. My book is different in that it gives practical advice for how a group might be led to express the gifts, which is a different set of instructions than those Storms gives. My book if also different because it candidly handles some of the tough situations that a group may encounter when opening up to the expression of the gifts of the spirit. Storms’ book does not address such situations.
Understanding Spiritual Gifts: A Comprehensive Guide by Sam Storms. Zondervan. 2020. This book is a comprehensive systematic theology of the spiritual gifts. Its aim is to argue that the gifts are still active today and also to help the reader understand what scriptural basis the spiritual gifts have. It also gives some real-life examples of the gifts at work. My book is unlike this book in that mine assumes the reader agrees with Storms on all of the theological points but is unsure how the gifts should look in the church at large, which my book argues should be in the small group context. Also, my book gives word-for-word examples of things a small group leader can say to encourage the gifts in his or her group.
The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts by Sam Storms. Zondervan. 2013. This book is an abridged version of Understanding Spiritual Gifts, written by the same author. It is a simpler systematic theology of the gifts addressed to those who are first beginning to read about the gifts. My book differs in all the same ways as in the previous entry, as this book is popular in its own right but is basically a shorter version of the previous entry.
Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship by Andrew Wilson. Zondervan. 2019. This book gives a glimpse into the Anglican church world where the spiritual gifts are practiced in the Sunday congregational gathering, and they are practiced through the liturgy of the High-Church model of the Anglican worship service. This book is similar in that it gives examples of the gifts operating in the church, but it is very different in that my book targets a Christian subgroup that does not practice the High- Church form that Wilson’s book describes. Also, and most notably, my book shows how the gifts can be practiced in a small group setting without the sacraments that Wilson attaches to the gifts. In short, this book is simply not addressed to the Baptist church nor to most Acts 29 churches as my book is.
Of all the books listed above, this book most closely resembles my book:
• The Spirit-filled Small Group: Leading Your Group to Experience Spiritual Gifts by Joel Comiskey. CCS Publishing. 2013. This book gives practical advice to group leaders about how to encourage the spiritual gifts in a small group setting. This is very similar to my book except that the advice is not exactly the same, and it does not give the practical steps to enliven a prayer group that my book gives, and it does not include anything about spiritual warfare as mine does. The biggest reason this book is not a direct competition to my book is that it is not likely to be read by many Baptists nor by many Acts 29 churches because the terminology in the title indicates that it is written for a different audience. The term “spirit-filled” to most in the Baptist and Acts 29 world is a non-starter. It is a term used in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles to refer to churches that are specifically not Baptist. In short, though this book is similar in scope and content, it is unlikely that anyone in my target audience would even read it.
Though there are books on related topics, and these books appear to have decent sales on Amazon, there is a need for a book like mine to offer new ideas about the relationship between the gifts of the spirit and the small group ministry of a church. My book even fills a market hole, created by the abundance of books about spiritual gifts that are not accepted and, therefore, not purchased by people in my target audience of Baptist and Acts 29 church goers.
V About Promotion
I am excited to participate in any publisher’s marketing plan, including any plan to maximize the one-month launch window. I plan on using a large portion of any advance to launch promotional campaigns for my book. I’m willing to hire a campaign coordinator and gather a launch team. I will also utilize the following:
I preach regularly at an Acts 29 Baptist church with a reach of 800 people.
As an Acts 29 church planter, I am invited to speak at churches in two planting networks that I am a part of: Plant Fort Worth and Acts 29. Many of these pastors invite planting pastors to preach in their churches especially during the planting process which begins for me in April 2021 and lasts until April 2022.
As a church planter in the Baptist General Convention of Texas, I could potentially speak at 5,700 member churches.
I have inter-network connections to the Convergence Conference, which would be an ideal place to market my book. It hosts 3,000 annually.
I have inter-network connections to thousands of Acts 29 and BGCT churches that could be interested in in-church workshops or even a small group conference based entirely on the model of small groups my book outlines. Two have already reached out about the book.
The following people have been asked to read the manuscript for possible endorsement:
Brian Blount, Conference Speaker, author of Putting Jesus on Display with Love and Power, founder of Putting Jesus on Display ministries, Pastor of Crestwood Vineyard Church has been asked to write an endorsement. We are acquaintances, and he is subscriber to my monthly newsletter.
Rachel Ridge, author of Flash: The Homeless Donkey Who Taught Me about Life, Faith, and Second Chances, and Walking with Henry: Big Lessons from a Little Donkey on Faith, Friendship, and Finding Your Path has been asked to write an endorsement. We are family friends.
Jeanne Damoff, author of Parting the Waters: Finding Beauty in Brokenness. We are family friends, and she has been asked to write an endorsement.
Jim Essian, Conference Speaker, author of Like Father, Like Sons, Pastor of The Paradox Church Fort Worth, has been asked to write an endorsement. He is my boss, lead pastor, and buddy.
I will craft and distribute press releases to the following newspapers and magazines:
Fort Worth Star Telegram, my city newspaper, which reaches over 80,000.
NBC5, a local station at which I have a personal contact and that reaches 100,000
Daily Sentinel and DailySentinel.com, my hometown newspaper, which reaches 30,000
viewers many of whom are in my target market, deep East Texas Baptist churches.
North Texas Daily, my alma mater newspaper. The school has an enrollment of 40,000.
The Gospel Coalition, an online publication that welcomes article contributors from my Baptist and Acts 29 networks. The reach is over 100,000 worldwide.
I intend to distribute press releases and/or short promotional pieces to the following churches and/or ministries:
Mercy Culture Church – Fort Worth
The Paradox Church – Fort Worth
Christ Chapel – Fort Worth
Doxology Church – Fort Worth
City Church – Fort Worth
Northbrook Church – Fort Worth
Pillar Church – Fort Worth
Grace Church – Fort Worth
The Village Church – Fort Worth
Christ Community Church – Denton Texas
Making Media Appearances
I will solicit interviews from the following media outlets:
NBC5’s TV and web series called #SomethingGood. They have done a story on my cancer journey, and I will request a follow up story to cover my recovery, which will include climbing a mountain and publishing my book, written during my chemotherapy treatments.
KCBI 90.9 – Dallas
KLTY 94.1 – Dallas
WRXT 90.3 & 103.7 – Roanoke
Remnant Radio Podcast
The Narrow Path Podcast
Talking on Taboo
The Real Kingdom Podcast – This is a podcast that I cohost.
I’m excited to bear partial expense for a publicity campaign. I’m a bit of a camera hog and would love any chance to speak, be interviewed, or submit recorded material to media outlets. I would be willing to receive further training than I already have for such campaigns, but I have the following experience:
I ran a grassroots publicity campaign for the release of a self-published book in 2008. I did a book signing at a local book store, did live readings at the local middle school and highs school, and the local news did a cover piece on it.
I have experience being interviewed by news outlets.
I participated in a grassroots publicity campaign for an album release in Dallas in 2009, which included a radio interview, a live performance on a morning news show, and a live performance that was attended by 200 people in a Dallas music club.
I was a music reviewer for an online music magazine, which is not direct publicity
training, but I conducted artist interviews, so I have been on both sides of a publicity
I attended a training workshop for fundraising for a 501c3, which is not direct publicity training, but it is training in being interviewed with a direct agenda.
Giving Copies to Influential People
I already have multiple churches requesting the book, but I will give copies to the following influencers, who have a trusted voice in my target audience, and with whom I already have personal connections:
Sam Storms, pastor of Bridgeway Church and leader of the Convergence Conference
Jim Essian, pastor of Paradox Church Fort Worth, leader of the Plant Fort Worth network
Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church and president of the Acts 29 network.
Shae Sumlin, pastor of Northway Church
Tom Howell, president of The Southern Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Landon Schott, pastor of Mercy Culture Church and conference speaker
Jeremy Shuck, pastor of Upper Room Frisco
I will launch a website that promotes THE SMALL GROUP NO ONE WANTS TO MISS. It will be routinely updated with blog posts that engage viewers, and it will provide an opportunity for readers to interact with me and with each other.
Because grassroots campaigns and word of mouth are some of the most effective ways to move any product, I will use my Facebook following to publicize and promote. My following is in the low 2,000s but increases daily especially after my recent story in the news. Additionally, I’ll send promotional material to my growing list of newsletter recipients, which has doubled from fifty to one hundred in the past week after I began promoting it.
The following are networks and groups that I am a part of, which can be used as further avenues of promotion.
I am a church planter with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. This convention is networked to 80 other Baptist associations and 5,700 churches. This represents hundreds of thousands of people.
I am a church planter with Acts 29, a network with 740 member churches, representing 10s of thousands of people.
I am a church planter with Plant Fort Worth, a network with 20 member churches, representing about 10,000 people.
VI About the Author
I am a passionate church and small group leader, interested in coaching people toward intimacy with God. I was the first of my family to become a Christian, and fortunately, I did not face any pushback from my parents, though I lost a lot of friends. The fact that I came from an unbelieving family meant that I didn’t have the benefit of a parent teaching me what to do with myself once I had become a believer. I had a lot of messes to clean up. My Christian life really took off when I was introduced to the idea of pursuing intimacy with God. Guess where that happened—in the context of a small group meeting.
Shortly after being introduced to the idea intimacy with God, I was suddenly leading my small group. Call it a God thing, I guess. Immediately, my friends and peers looked to me as a leader, so I wore the hat and poured myself into my small group. That group lasted years, and even when it “stopped meeting,” it really just morphed into another group that is still going to this day, 14 years later. What on earth made that group strong enough to last for more than a decade? I hadn’t read a single small group leadership book. It was all about intimacy with God, a concept that I’d later find out was not a central theme in any of the books that I eventually ended up reading on the topic of small groups.
Over the last 14 years, I lead other groups, some that flourished and some that died a pitiful small group death. I honed my small group philosophy based on what worked for us and what didn’t. In the end, I figured out how to start small groups that had that x-factor that made them exciting, engaging, and long-lasting. The tragic part was that all the churches in my networks and denomination have been struggling with small groups for years, while the answer has been so simple. I wrote my philosophy and methods into a concise book that I hope will change the landscape of small groups across the church spectrum.
Harvard Heart of Gold, Self-published, 2008 and re-released in 2020. It has sold over 500 copies, with very little promotion. This title is a fiction piece and was a hobby interest more than a serious publishing attempt. It’s clever as all get out though, and worth a read!
I’m currently working on a testimonial biography of a highly decorated Mexican- American in the US Coast Guard. I am in the interview stage, and there is no working title yet.
Educational and Professional Background
I received a bachelor’s degree in English Creative Writing from the University of North Texas along with a master’s degree in Linguistics from the same school. During my time getting both degrees, I gained a great amount of writing experience, holding the position of Managing Editor of a journal called the North Texas Review as well as writing for linguistic projects that were later published by my professors. I also attended many writers’ workshops and conventions.
I am eager to get my book into the hands of the churches that need it, of which there are many. I am passionate about this project and look forward to all of the leg-work required to promote it well and see this book widely distributed with excellent sales. I believe this book along with my workshops, speaking engagements, and conventions will be the beginning of the much- needed next generation of small groups.
How a book called “Redemption” Saved me
When they looked me in the eye to tell me I had cancer, I was still a little too loopy, coming out of my last surgery, making the same joke over and over to my wife. The joke was that I didn’t remember who she was. It was infantile. I realize that, but I blame the drugs.
“So you’re saying that based on the shape of this thing, you can tell it’s cancer even without a biopsy?”
“Yes, Mr. Aguilar.”
The easy questions were out of the way.
“So what about,” I hesitated because of the gravity of the next word. It was heavy in my mouth like someone had slipped a lead weight in there, sour, old, and heavey. “What about survival?”
“It’s impossible to make promises,” the doctor said, making that motion you make when anything could be possible, a grand shrug with the arms up nearly as high as a football ref calling a field goal, but a lot less exciting.
“And what about a bag? Will I end up with...” hard swallow, “one of those?
This time the doctor didn’t say a word, but she made another grand anything could happen motion.
Then they left. We sat there for only a moment in silence, my wife dizzy with the what-ifs of losing me. And I was dizzy from the anesthetics, but at that moment, I had somewhat of a life-flashing-before-my-eyes moment.
I remembered a book called “Redemption” by Mike Wilkerson. It was about redeeming past hurts, past sin struggles, and even current sin struggles. I was not a huge fan, truth be told, but I was a team player.
I read about the Isrealites being led out of Egypt by their God. The main teaching takeaway from the chapter was something like, “You are not the center of the story. You like one of those Isrealites is a minor character in the larger story of God.”
My day was Sept 6, 2020. In the matter of a breath, I went from a healthy, youngish man that people looked to for answers to the sickest person I know.
Thinking of that pesky notion of not being the center of the story, when the doctor and nurse left us, I felt something jostle within me, an idea, an opportunity. I felt like I heard over the intercom of my heart a word perhaps from the same God I’d read about back in Wilkerson’s book. I had the thought, and it was in God’s voice, speaking in first person, “Now is your chance to worship me as your first response. You only get one chance to worship first.”
I excitedly hurried my wife beside me with a bible in hand.
“Let’s thank God,” I said, so we tearfully shouted thank-yous and hallelujahs like we were two bible thumpers on the way to Wednesday night bible study, but happier--maybe.