Housegroups: The leader’s survival guide
Edited by Ian Coffey and Stephen Gaukroger, IVP, 2011, 194pp
When I received my review copy of this book I was a little bemused as to why it was thought that I might be the man to offer an assessment of this title. The churches I serve have monthly fellowship evenings that meet in people’s homes, but they aren’t quite housegroups in the usual sense of the word. It was hard therefore to motivate myself to read and review a book that has little direct relevance to my ministry. My inertia wasn’t exactly overcome when, flicking through descriptions of the contributors I found that one of them likes playing and listening to country music. But probably out of a misguided sense of obligation I thought that I had better read the book anyway and offer the dear readers of Evangelical Times the benefit of my opinion.
Now, it is often at this point that reviewers try and outflank their readers by saying that although they initially thought that the book they were sent was barely worth their notice, on getting started, it was in fact the best thing that they had ever read on the subject. What the reader thinks is going to be a hatchet job turns out to be a warm commendation of a most excellent title, with the glowing review concluding, “Sell your shirt to buy it.” But you can hold onto your shirt. I’m not going to play that old trick on you. As I read through the book I found little to pique my interest and a few things that made me feel rather dismayed.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all bad. There are helpful points on the biblical basis of housegroups and some down to earth advice on how to lead such meetings well. The book includes suggestions on the art of asking a good Bible study question, handling awkward people and encouraging the less vocal members of a group to take part. But the guide is not well suited for use in the distinctly Evangelical and Reformed Churches that make up the vast majority of ET’s readership. It seems aimed more at Churches belonging to the Evangelical Alliance. Video resources produced by Steve Chalke are highlighted. The Alpha Course rather than Christianity Explored is recommended as an evangelistic tool. The chapter on Creative worship suggests that with a meditative instrumental CD playing in the background, housegroup members write about their own inner “secret garden”. The piece on Praying together, talks about using gift-wrapped boxes, each labelled inside with a different gift of the Spirit found in 1 Corinthians 12. Once the boxes are opened the group is encouraged to pray for that particular gift to be released in the church. I could go on, but I won’t. Enough’s enough. If the good people at ET know of a title Housegroups: The reader’s survival guide, I’d be glad to see a copy.