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7 Small Group Deal-Breakers…and the Workarounds You Need

Deal-breakers. We know them. Sometimes they’re in the fine print. Sometimes they come out later. But we know them.

Pretty much every endeavor has them. Every occupation. Every business. Every relationship.


In the land of small groups, there are deal-breakers and then there are deal-breakers. Here are what I think are the seven key deal-breakers:

  1. A senior pastor who delegates the champion role. It may not be a permanent workaround, but making sure your senior pastor hears the best life-change stories, along with how to use them to support values they hold dear, goes a long way. I’ve “staked out” more than one senior pastor in order to get big stories into their messages. (See Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.)
  2. Small groups as a selection on the buffet. One of the best workarounds I’ve discovered is to find ways to encourage all ministry leaders to incorporate the same essential ingredients. (See A “Plated Meal” Leads to a Church OF Groups.)
  3. Unrealistic expectations about priorities and commitment. How much of your program is based on the availability and attention of another era? If you have a Sunday evening service or a Wednesday night prayer meeting, you’re using forms that were common 20 years ago and may be trying to add small groups as an additional expectation in an era when the pace of life will not accomodate one more thing. A workaround might be to begin to repurpose your Sunday evening or Wednesday night service to include the essential ingredients of life-change and then present them as on-campus options alongside off-campus alternatives. (See Unexamined Expectations about Priorities and Commitments for more.)
  4. Leader requirements that exclude ordinary people. Raising the bar too high makes it unlikely you’ll find enough leaders to connect everyone. As a workaround, propose an entry-level opportunity like Steve Gladen suggests in Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway.  (See Leader Requirements: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, or Open Bar?)
  5. Ineffective leader development. One of the main environmental factors limiting small group ministries is that groups struggle to become more than a good way to connect people. Need a workaround? Build in the right kind of coaching. (See Coaching FAQ: What Is the Role of the Coach?)
  6. Matchmaking as an essential ingredient to connect with a group. If your small group ministry has more than five to 10 groups, it will be increasingly difficult to help members find “the right group for them.” A great workaround is to provide events that connect people and a 24/7 way that unconnected people can find a group that fits without going through a matchmaker. (See What’s the Best Way for People to Sign Up and Commit to a Group and Matchmaking: Making It Easy to Find a Group.)
  7. GroupLife as an annual emphasis. If the only time you ever talk about small groups is once a year during the fall, you’re going to have a hard time connecting beyond the usual suspects. A key workaround is to develop an annual grouplife calendar and create additional easy opportunities that lead to a group. (See 5 Keys to Launching Groups Year Round.)

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation. 

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Mark Howell serves as Pastor of Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, NV. He founded SmallGroupResources.net, offering consulting and coaching services to help churches across North America launch, build and sustain healthy small group ministries. He spent four years on the consulting staff at Lifetogether and often contributes to ministry periodicals such as the Pastor's Ministry Toolbox and ChurchCentral.com.