1. Consuming. Groups who focus all their attention on themselves grow … fat. But they don’t grow up. They are consumer groups who, like Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, swell up into something completely useless, to be rolled away by Oompa-Loompas. Healthy groups focus on others, which leads not only to the Golden Ticket but to real maturity.
2. Concentrating on study and knowledge. Yeah, it’s ironic this is a stupid thing that keeps groups from growing, but it’s actually true. The apostle Paul said, “Knowledge puffs up (there’s Violet again), but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1). James said not to just listen to God’s Word but to actually do what it says (James 1:22).
3. Forgetting Jesus really is present when you meet. An unhealthy group sets its own agenda or falls into the agenda of strong or very needy group members. Healthy groups remember Jesus is present and meet for his purposes and with his power.
4. A meeting mentality. A great group is way more than merely a meeting. Focus on mission and ministry, not just on holding meetings.
5. A leader who leads from knowledge, abilities or personality. Groups that grow are led by leaders who are growing in their own relationship with Christ. This is their No. 1 priority. They lead out of the overflow of what God is pouring into them.
6. Solo leadership. Groups that grow, really grow, have leaders who share leadership with a core team of a few others. These groups not only grow, they multiply more naturally.
7. Arms-length relationships. People often get into small groups because they want friends with whom they can do this Christian life. They may not say that or even totally realize it, but that’s what they’re really looking for. When they don’t get it, they’ll go somewhere else. People grow spiritually in an an environment of real-life community [translate, “friends”]. Groups grow when groups are friends, not just acquaintances.
8. No ownership. In stagnant groups, people show up empty-handed and leave without contributing anything to the rest of the group. In a healthy group, everyone participates and contributes. Group members use their gifts and involve their passions. Each person has a role in the functioning of the group.
9. No plans or goals. Dormant groups live by default rather than design. They live in reactive rather than proactive mode. An assessment of the groups at our church showed conclusively that when groups know who they are, what they are about and where they are going, they grow spiritually and numerically. If your longest range plans are who is bringing what kind of cookies to next week’s meeting, you’re probably stuck, and that’s stupid.
10. Taking yourselves way too seriously. Nobody wants to come—or keep coming—to your humdrum small group. Loosen up. Laugh together. Play some music and have a danceoff. Change the regular order of your meeting agenda—or just throw out the agenda. Be creative.