My husband and I met in a small group at Saddleback Church. He was the co-leader of a business group that included men, women, couples, and singles. It was my first experience in a small group, but Dave and I have been leading small groups and support groups ever since. Sometimes we lead together, other times he might lead a men’s group and I’ll lead a women’s group. We’ve led groups at a megachurch like Saddleback, and at the small church in the mountain community where we now live. Our favorite groups are couples groups.
Like every small group, some of our groups ran smoothly with everyone committed, and others had problems that we had to address for the good of the group. God taught us five key areas where a small group will not glorify Him or enrich the spiritual life of the group members.
1. Group time becomes a gossip session – Is your group a safe place where members can share openly without condemnation, criticism, or worrying that what they say will leave the group? Are prayer requests personal or do group members tell stories they’ve heard about someone not in the group and/or ask for prayer for people and situations where permission has not been granted?
Members should feel confident that prayer requests or comments made during meetings are confidential and not discussed outside the group, without permission from all individuals involved.
The leader should remind the group at prayer time to ask only for personal prayer requests, and not discuss group prayer requests without permission.
Spouses should not share stories about each other without receiving permission, whether or not their spouse is present. To keep the group accountable in this area, when a spouse starts to talk about his or her spouse, the leader can say something like, “That sounds like a hubby [or wife] story. Hubby [or wife], do you want us to hear this?” Or is your spouse okay with you sharing this story? If no, then nix the story.
2. Group members try to fix each other – Are members trying to solve each other’s problems or give unsolicited advice?
Members shouldn’t try to speak into each other’s life unless asked to do so. Often a member just wants to share a difficult situation and is solely looking for compassion, understanding, and prayer. The group should listen respectfully, and possibly offer constructive and empathetic comments from their own experience, as long as those thoughts are biblically sound and above all encouraging. No quick fixes or “You should...”
Sometimes members with difficult issues can dominate the entire meeting and that might be appropriate if someone is in an immediate crisis. But if this becomes a pattern, the leader/facilitator gently suggests that the member might benefit from speaking with pastors at the church or offer to talk privately and pray with him or her after the group.
3. No commitment or agreed upon expectations
– Is everyone putting group meetings on their calendars and communicating in advance when they’re not able to attend? Do all members have clear expectations of what they’re going to receive from the study, and are they in concert with the group? Will it be a social fellowship group vs. a Bible
study group, or a combination of the two?
Commitment and making group meetings a high priority is imperative. Members should not have an “I’ll-be-there-if-I-can” attitude. Your goal is to become a spiritual family growing and doing life together, respectful of each other’s time and efforts.
There’s nothing more discouraging as a leader than to prepare for the group and then start receiving the phone calls and emails, often at the last minute, that members aren’t coming. One way to share the commitment and ownership of the group is to pass the facilitating of the group among the members. So it’s not always a leader/members group, but a participative group with everyone having a part in facilitating the meetings.
Make sure you have a group covenant that clearly states the purpose of the group and allow everyone an opportunity to express his or her expectations. This is also a good place to emphasize confidentiality and commitment expectations.
4. Lack of sensitivity to the Holy Spirit
Do you spend enough time in the Word and let the Holy Spirit guide your time, or are you trying to rush through studies to reach a goal?
Regardless of the focus of the group, everyone must be reading from the Bible every meeting. Members need to spend time in God’s Word and in prayer for spiritual maturity to occur.
It is important to end at the agreed expected time so people can plan, but don’t be overly concerned how much material is covered each meeting. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead and expose just the right discussion for growth in everyone’s life.
5. Erratic group participation – Is everyone completing his or her outside study material between meetings and contributing to discussions? Do some people never talk and others do all the talking?
It’s important for the health and growth of the group that everyone comes prepared if there is homework or reading between meetings, and that each member has an opportunity to participate in discussion.
A good way to engage people who tend to be quiet is to ask them to read a Scripture, and if it applies to a study question, that’s an open door to read their answer. Or to prevent them from feeling pressured to respond first, allow some initial discussion on the question, then the leader/facilitator can invite their input. These suggestions also are effective in preventing the group from relying on the same group members for answers and discussion.
Small groups are vital to the spiritual growth and maturity of a church congregation by expanding on the weekend ministry and teaching during the week. It’s easy to get lost in a large church and not feel accountable, but a small group makes a big church small. In a small church, like where we attend now, small groups make a small church a large extended family.
What other things have you found to be a problem and/or helpful in keeping your small group effective and maturing together in Christ?