Home Small Group Leaders Articles for Small Group Leaders 10 Pitfalls of Small Group Ministry

10 Pitfalls of Small Group Ministry

“We tried small groups and they didn’t work.” This is a common confession I receive from church staff members. The leaders who are least interested in hearing about small group ministry are those who have previously implemented them with lackluster results.

It’s when I dig a little deeper, though, that I can begin to pinpoint where the groups were not set up for sustainability and success.

Small groups are not just a way to close the backdoor. Small group ministry can be a church’s entire family system for intentionally growing their people in relationship, discipleship and leadership. The beautiful part is that small groups can facilitate these critical dynamics for 50 people or 5,000 people … when they are set up right!

Allow me to share 10 Common Pitfalls of Small Group Ministry…

1. No clarity on what a disciple is. Can you and your church leadership answer the following question with agreement and absolute clarity: What does it look like to be a disciple of Christ at our church?

Small groups can equip you to make more disciples, but first you have to know what a disciple is to your church. Once you’ve established this, you can appropriately design your group model towards that end.

2. No community. Some churches launch groups that have a laser-beam focus on Bible study. While the Bible study is benefical, there is no emphasis placed on inviting others, communication and interaction in-between group meetings.

Small groups work best when people get tangled up in each other’s lives. This doesn’t happen overnight, but you need trained and focused leaders to begin to shift the culture of a church towards this lifestyle.

3. No curriculum. Some churches launch groups that are fellowship and accountability only. Getting together to hang out and check in with each other is the sum total of the group experience. Like #2, this is important but it is incomplete for long-term small group success.

This type of approach will make it difficult to involve large amounts of new people, especially in America. While the initial groups will bond and grow together, it will not be attractive to the average new attender.

As Steve Gladen so eloquently told me recently, “(Americans) gather around content, not community.” What he meant was new people are enticed to check out a group because of the topic, not for the principle of “community” (even though they desperately need the community).

4. No compliment to the weekend service. Typically speaking, the weekend service is corporate worship and a message and/or teaching. The social interaction is present, but it’s not the dominant factor.

It’s important for churches to have a complimentary expression of what it means to be the church. This happens when a small group can experience God’s Word, God’s Presence, prayer and worship in a way that is personal, interactive and social.

It’s not a sinful thing for a group leader to preach or teach for 30-45 minutes, but it doesn’t create balance for the body of Christ’s growth in the long-term. In a day and age where people are socially under-developed (sorry, Zuckerberg), it has never been more important for groups to be filled with discussion and participation.

5. No strategy for growth. “How are you going to develop more group leaders?” “How are you going to launch more groups?” If there aren’t robust responses to these questions, the small group ministry is destined to fall victim to traditional attrition (people moving, leadership turnover, staff transitions, etc).

6. No training for new group leaders. Several key times a year there should be training opportunities for new group leaders (which also means there should be new group leaders being released several times a year). Make sure your training reinforces the end result you want your leaders to work towards.

7. No group momentum within the church. When a church has a low percentage of participation in groups, it’s time to re-think things, hit the reset button and launch the groups ministry in a fresh and exciting way.

In order for this to happen you will definitely need all of the staff and key leaders buying into the groups vision (meaning they lead or attend a group). If this is the way disciples are grown (and discipleship is a life-long process) it should be the way the staff and leaders are grown too. When the church sees this signal from the leadership, they begin to take the groups vision more seriously.

You will also never experience momentum with groups if you don’t have enough of them to connect the majority of your congregation. If you’re a church of 500 and you’re planning to launch 10 groups total, you have guaranteed yourself that you will not have momentum.

8. No ongoing care and support for group leaders. If you add regular trainings for new group leaders, you will be doing more than most churches currently do, BUT, if you have a disciplined focus on developing small group coaches to care for your leaders, you will be flirting with an uncommon groups ministry.

Most churches can facilitate 15-25 groups with a dedicated small group point person (paid-staff or volunteer). If you want to break through to new levels that are sustainable though, you need to raise up coaches who can give more attention to your group leaders.

9. No synergy. Small groups need to effectively dovetail with the church’s ministry structure. Many churches produce a lot of sideways energy between all of their programs. People are kept busy, but over time it doesn’t feel like things are moving forward.

It’s been said, “Go big or go home.” The reality is, most churches can only go big in 2 or 3 areas. The good news is this: If I make small groups one of the main dishes on the church menu, I can go big by going home and meeting with my group!

10. No presence in the pulpit. The lead pastor of the church needs to be the groups champion in the church (this point is a close-cousin to #7). He or she can’t wait for groups to be popular to start spending his or her leadership capital on it. When the shepherd of the sheep celebrates group life, a groups culture will be birthed.

In closing, it’s important to note that all churches battle the tensions previously listed and it’s impossible to be perfect. Nobody wants to intentionally kill or hold back a small group ministry, but most people don’t have the knowledge or have never experienced the significant payoffs of a healthy and thriving groups ministry. This is why we are continually talking about the solutions to these pitfalls every week here at Small Group Churches.