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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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: