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5 Common Artificial Barriers to Small Group Ministry Growth

If you’re like many, you’ve wrestled with the question, “Why can’t we break through this barrier?”

Here are what I believe are five of the most common artificial barriers that limit small group ministry:

  1. The impression that the weekend service meets the minimum weekly requirement.  Is it crystal clear in your church that being part of a small group plays an essential role in spiritual growth?  If being part of a small group isn’t consistently referenced as essential in both the weekend and everyday communication, you can be sure that your congregation has the impression that attending the weekend service meets the minimum weekly requirement.  See also, Life-Change at the Member Level.
  2. Too many selections on the next step menu.  It may surprise you to learn that too many options is actually demotivating.  In a fascinating study by Sheena S. Iyengar and Mark R. Lepper (Choice is Demotivating) it was learned that more is rarely better.  Their study examined customer responses to two jam sampling opportunities on two consecutive weekends at a high-end grocery store in Menlo Park, CA.  The first weekend featured a stand with 24 selections (extensive choice).  The second weekend featured a stand with just 6 selections (limited choice).  Of the 242 customers who passed by the sampling stand with 24 choices, 60% stopped while only 40% stopped at the limited choice stand the following weekend.  Predictably, the customers seemed to prefer the more extensive choice.  Surprisingly, the checkout stand revealed a different story.  30% of the limited choice customers purchased jam while only 3% of the extensive choice customers purchased jam.  See also, If I Was Starting Today, Part Four.
  3. Minimum leadership expectations are too challenging.  If you’re not finding enough leaders to connect the unconnected adults in your church, the problem could be that you’ve set initial leadership expectations too high.  Is this true in your small group ministry?  Sometimes a simple calculation can reveal the answer.  In a recent consultation I learned that two of the minimum requirements for leadership were church membership and tithing.  Both admirable qualities, don’t you think?  Still, a simple calculation revealed that the number of members giving at a level that could be assumed a tithe was insufficient to connect the unconnected adults in the congregation (# of unconnected adults divided by 10).  See also, Small Group Leaders: Qualifications, Hoops and Lowering the Bar.
  4. Entry level leadership opportunities are too infrequent.  If you’re limiting entry level leadership opportunities to once a year during the big small group ministry push, you’re missing out on a very important ingredient.  Remember, a significant percentage of potential leaders aren’t yet attending 3 or 4 weekends a month.  If your recruitment efforts aren’t year round, you’re going to miss out on a large harvest.  See also, 5 Keys to Launching Groups Year-Round.
  5. Insufficient effort at launching new small groups.  The easiest thing to do is add members to existing groups.  At least that’s the way it seems.  The truth is, if you’re not starting new groups, you’re missing out on the easiest way to connect unconnected people.  See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Start New Groups and Top 5 Advantages of New Groups.  
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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.