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How to add a zipped Shapefile?
You can go and look the shapefile datastore into the GeoTools library. Most of the code assumes NIO can be used, and most of it it's not trivial either.
You can try to hunt down a very old version of GeoTools where the shapefile datastore was still able to use plain streams, probably around 2.1 release time. A bit of warning thought, due to compression you'll loose the ability to perform random scans. A gut feeling estimate is that a version serving out of a zip file will be an order of magnitude slower for sequential scans, and at least two if you start to need using spatial indexes to access the data.
If you don't want to have your filesystem littered with many small files, have you considered using a spatial enabled database instead? PostGIS can give you very good performance with a very low footprint on your system. H2 is an embedded database that can do good too and can be already used in GeoServer 1.7.x, thought it does not have spatial indexes (but given that you're planning to use zipped shapefiles, you probably don't care to start with?).