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What to Do When Your Group Gets Smaller

Last night we had lazy leftovers for supper. I hate leftovers on Thursday nights. They exist only because small group members cancelled at the last minute the night before. You’ve had the calls. These calls never last long and some of the reasons for missing are as follows—“My husband is on the road and I’m not feeling well.”, “Gotta work late tonight.”, “It’s been a long week and I just need some time to myself.”, “I gotta wash my hair.” (Well, the last one isn’t for real, but sometimes it feels like the people you’re trying desperately to connect with are dodging you.)

  • Disappointment: I’m disappointed because I know what God is willing to do when His family gets together.
  • Self-Evaluation: I must be the worst small group leader in the world.
  • Anger: Do these people really expect us to clean house, prepare a meal, work on a Bible study and then call at the last minute to say they can’t make it?! Would they bail at the last minute if a friend invited them over for supper and a night of video games?!
  • Comparisons: How would they feel if they did all this work then we decided not to show?
  • Coalitions: Maybe I should just ask the people who are consistent to be in our group and ask the others to find another group they would be more excited about.
  • Questions: Could he have made it back from his business trip in time if he’d tried? If she’d taken a couple of aspirin, could she have come tonight? Did she have to work late tonight or did she choose to work late so she wouldn’t have to come to group? Don’t we all need some time to ourselves, why not hide in your cave a night other than this one?

After thinking all of these thoughts, we might say to ourselves, “I think I’ll just give them leftovers.” Instead of preparing something wonderful, I’ll just give them second best stuff. Supper—peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (and you’ll create them yourselves). No house cleaning (if you’ve got dog hair all over your black pants when you get off the couch, that stinks for you). Prepare a Bible study? Not on your life (We can have a discussion without me even thinking about it, and if you walk away believing there’s a thousand ways to heaven, it’s not my problem.) In fact, if you end up separated from God, it’s your problem! If you’d shown up for last week’s meeting, even someone like you might have had a shot for an eternal relationship with God.

A few things to remember:

  1. Small group members seldom mislead or lie to you. Believe them when they tell you why they can’t make it to the meeting.
  2. The enemy wants to get into your head and create division in your group, and he’ll definitely use situations like these to do it.
  3. When your group shrinks, the opportunity to affect one another grows. The smaller the group, the more personal the conversation.
  4. God may have concluded He wanted a smaller group to gather tonight for a reason only He knows.
  5. Jesus said, “…where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).  
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Rick has one passion… To see “a biblical small group within walking distance of every person on the planet making disciples that make disciples.” He is presently pursuing this passion as the Small Group and Discipleship Specialist at LifeWay Church Resources. Rick has authored or co-authored multiple books, studies, and leader training resources including A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic, Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual, The Gospel and the Truth: Living the Message of Jesus, Small Group Life Ministry Manual: A New Approach to Small Groups, Redeeming the Tears: a Journey Through Grief and Loss, Small Group Life: Kingdom, Small Group Kickoff Retreat: Experiential Training for Small Group Leaders, and Great Beginnings: Your First Small Group Study, Disciples Path: A Practical Guide to Disciple Making. Rick’s varied ministry experiences as an collegiate minister, small group pastor, teaching pastor, elder, full-time trainer and church consultant, as well as having been a successful church planter gives him a perspective of church life that is all-encompassing and multi-dimensional. Rick is a highly sought after communicator and trainer.