Divide to Multiply: How to Turn One Powerful Small Group Into Many

The Kingdom of God spreads through multiplication, and it is effective to be intentional about using your small group ministry to multiply the power of God to build His Kingdom. When you have a powerful small group that is changing lives and impacting people, it may be a good idea to consider splitting the group into two (or more) groups in order to multiply that effect. This goes against the nature of many people, who think “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but we urge you to consider this concept.

Positives and Negatives

There are some really powerful reasons to consider dividing up groups:

  • More groups are available to members of the community or church.
  • It helps to develop new leaders, who might not have otherwise had the courage or opportunity to step up.
  • It keeps groups small, which is best for the sense of closeness and community (8-12 people is ideal) – more than that, it’s time to divide.
  • It helps to guard against exclusivity. A group that is together for a long time without bringing in new members can become inward-focused and self-centered, rather than outwardly focused on building the Kingdom.
  • New friends and new relationships are built.
  • Personal growth is enhanced. When we get settled into a long-time group, we often find ourselves in a comfort zone and not challenged to grow. Being willing to sacrifice comfort and accept new challenges will enhance our opportunities to grow.
  • New enthusiasm is introduced. People who are beginning something new often have a fresh enthusiasm that long-timers have forgotten. Bringing in new people can keep your mindset open and fresh.
  • It’s a new opportunity to reach people who desperately want/need a group. There might be people in your church/community who are in deep need of a Christian community who just need an opportunity to join a group of people who will encourage their faith.
  • It’s biblical! Christ Himself used this model with His disciples. They moved from disciples to apostles, who grew their own ministries and spread His Kingdom all across the world!

It’s also important for leaders to be aware of potential negatives to splitting. There will be resistance from members who are happy and comfortable in the current small group. Some very entrenched groups might resent being forced to change, so a leader has to be prayerful and wise about how hard to push the group to split. New groups will very likely not be as good as the old group was, at least in the beginning. Members have to be prepared for there to be a transition period that might be difficult or uncomfortable.

How to Successfully Divide and Multiply

Once you decide to move forward with splitting a group, here are the steps for making it as successful as possible.

  1. Cast the vision early – it’s important to affect the larger body of Christ.
  2. Select an apprentice or two and give them opportunity to grow as a leader. Encourage them to be preparing to start their own group. Start them small with simple tasks and then grow their responsibilities as they’re ready.
  3. If possible, pre-determine the mission of the NEW group and talk through it with existing group members. This may uncover some common denominators among existing group members that a new group can be based on – a shared experience or goal rather than just location or life stage.
  4. Ask for volunteers to serve as host early on – either occasionally or on a regular basis. This will expose people to various leadership tasks and help build confidence in their ability to lead.
  5. Determine who will go where. Create 2 groups out of the current members – some staying and some members going with the new leader. Alternatively, the existing leaders can leave to start a brand new group and put a new leader in place, or several groups can break off and all begin new groups. These conversations can be awkward and result in hurt feelings. Encourage everyone to be open and honest, be filled with grace, and remember that the purpose is to build the Kingdom.
  6. Count down. Don’t wait until the last minute – encourage group members to pray about the possibilities. It also gives members time to embrace the idea of dividing as you are likely to have push back on this concept.
  7. Celebrate the new groups and keep casting the vision!

Making the Decision to Divide

How does a group leader know when it’s time to divide and multiply? It may be time to divide when:

  • You sense there is a leader in the making
  • Discussion with your members sounds positive
  • You have prayed about it and feel that it’s time to move ahead
  • Your group has been together more than 18 months

Timing is everything. Don’t divide in the Spring. Stay together through the Summer; share some great memories and divide in the Fall.

Conclusion

The ultimate goal of small groups is enabling life change through discipleship in community. After a group finds success and does well, it’s time to start thinking about how to expand the group’s impact. One powerful way to do that is to break up the group. That might sound counter-intuitive, but dividing a group can make room for more people to join, be affected, and multiply the number of lives changed. Dividing to multiply may not make sense in math class, but it’s magic in small group ministry. Boldly move forward and see how God will multiply your groups for His Kingdom!

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Watch a 50-minute recorded webinar presenting this material:

Top 5 Small Group Challenges (and How to Solve Them)

As many positive things as we have to say about small groups, a group will always have its challenges. A wise leader will help its group navigate through these challenges. Here are our suggestions:

Challenge 1: Lack of Commitment

Life is just so busy!! This is the #1 challenge that small group ministries face. People sign up to join a group, but then they never show up.

Solutions:

  • Start with a shorter term commitment – 3 or 6 weeks. After the original length of commitment is finished, groups can reevaluate and see who wants to continue and how.
  • Use a group covenant. Have group members sign a commitment acknowledging the expectation that group members are expected to attend every meeting barring unforeseen circumstances. Make these expectations clear from the very first meeting.
  • Do a church-wide study so that all groups are using the same material. The fear of being the only person to not know about the material is a good motivator to keep people participating.

*Tip: Make sure to give plenty of notice to groups that you are planning on launching a church-wide campaign so that they can be mentally prepared to commit for the series.*

 

Challenge 2: Lack of Openness

Many groups feel a lack of authenticity in fellowship or communication. There is almost always at least one member who just rubs others the wrong way, which can be a real barrier to the sense of community in a group.

Solutions:

  • Make sure to give your group social time to break the ice and get to know each other before expecting them to jump right in to deep material. Plan ahead so that your first meeting or two are just get-to-know-you events.
  • Check your leadership. How do you model openness? The leader begins by modeling how they want the other group members to be.
  • Frankly address the issue of diverse personalities and backgrounds in the group. Talk about how the group’s diversity is an opportunity to show Christ’s love or to love as Christ would!
  • Refocus the group on the reasons you meet.
  • Privately speak to any group members who are monopolizing the group or causing difficulties to relationships in the group. Make sure to come from a place of love.

*Tip: Strategize a plan with a co-leader to have a code for redirecting a discussion when one member is monopolizing or taking it the wrong direction. Maybe you can say, “Wow, that’s really interesting,” which will be code for your co-leader to call on another member and ask for their opinion.*

 

Challenge 3: Exclusivity

Some groups can begin to feel like a clique where newcomers are not welcome. This is especially common in groups who know each other well or have been together for a long time. It can be difficult to convince people to be willing to risk changing a comfortable group by adding new members.

Solutions:

  • Revisit the goals of the group from the covenant made at the beginning. If seeing lives changed in following Christ is one of our goals, then how are we doing that? And why wouldn’t we want to spread that effect to other people?
  • Define what openness and outreach means for your group either currently or in the future.
  • Consider the idea of dividing to multiply. The group might need to split into two (or more) groups in order to multiply the positive effect to even more lives.
  • Find a service project as a group. Even closed groups need to impact the world around them.

*Tip: The Empty Chair can be a good concept for reinforcing the idea that there’s always room for more people. Make sure that at every meeting, there is one extra chair in the circle that stays empty. That Empty Chair is for the next person your group can positively impact.*

 

Challenge 4: Choosing Materials

It can be challenging to select materials that will benefit everyone in the group. Individual preferences and needs can make it difficult.

Solutions:

  • Let the leader just choose the material, and group members can take it or leave it.
  • Determine the goals of your group and then choose the study based on that.
  • Participate in a church-wide study so that there is no discussion on what material to do.

 

Challenge 5: Disintegration

If people aren’t showing up or are showing up late and unprepared, your group is in trouble. Sometimes groups just fall apart. It happens!

Solutions:

  • Don’t take it personally. Don’t let it discourage you.
  • Talk about it openly with your group – don’t wait. Discuss what’s going on as soon as you see signs of trouble. Ask your group members what is going on and what can be changed to make it work.
  • Take the lead on next steps – lay out a plan to get back on track. Maybe have an “official reconstituting” of your group.
  • If the group does dissolve, take what you learned and take it with you into your next group. Don’t give up!

 

Bonus Challenge: Scheduling

Families with children and lots of activities often have a very difficult time coordinating calendars and making a regular schedule. Many groups don’t get off the ground because the members can’t coordinate a time to meet.

Solutions:

  • Set a definite regular meeting time, and those who can make it will be there. Your group will get used to making those times available on their calendar, and those who can never make it will find another group.
  • Offer suggestions for childcare. Maybe a group can pool money to hire a sitter for their kids. Larger churches can choose one night of the week to offer childcare at the church so that groups can meet.
  • Consider making a closed Facebook Group just for your group so that members can stay connected even if they can’t make it to the meetings.
  • Don’t feel pressure to have huge groups. Maybe just two couples meet together regularly. “Where two or more are gathered…” Groups really find great intimacy and depth when they are smaller.

 

Every group, even the best groups, will have challenges – sometimes severe! Prayer and intentional leadership can get your group through challenges stronger than ever.

To watch a 50-minute webinar that presents the above ideas and more, see the video below: