7 Characteristics of Effective Small Groups

Guest Post by Brendt Blanks

I love the role I get to play in leading 7th grade girls in a discipleship small group every Sunday night. It has been a blessing to see the young girls growing so passionate about their faith life.

Having run groups for years in a clinical setting as a licensed counselor, many of the characteristics of running a successful discipleship group are quite similar. Yet, there are some that are unique to leading students in meaningful spiritual growth.

Here are seven characteristics of running an effective small group (I’d love to hear your thoughts on any characteristics you have found to be effective):


Trust is the foundation of any group. As a group, we will actually take the time to state aloud the fact that we trust each other. We remind each other often that there should be no hesitation about sharing information within the boundaries of our group because we know it will stay within the group. Trust means being comfortable enough to be vulnerable. As one of our girls said the other night, “trust is like the oil that keeps things running smoothly.”


Commitment is key in effective small groups. This is means a commitment to your stated goals, commitment to attend, as well as a commitment to keep up with any curriculum requirements. If trust is the foundation of small groups, commitment is the glue.


Good communication practices during the week can do as much to grow your group than just about anything. The girls in my group keep me updated on prayer requests, praises, or just information they want to share with me. We do this through texts, emails, and phone calls. As a leader, you can have a huge impact in keeping communication open during the week.

Scripture Memory

This is one we honestly sort of stumbled on, but that has been really great for us. As this year progressed, we began choosing a verse that we’d all commit to memorizing by the next week’s meeting. It has been great accountability. But, it’s also been cool to hear how the Holy Spirit brings the verse to each of our minds during the week, how we may have shared it with others, or how it brings comfort individually. We all agreed it has drawn us closer to the Lord as a group.

Helping Others Together

We make it a point to assist those in need, as Scripture commands. So far this year we’ve cleaned up the litter and debris in an especially underprivileged neighborhood, and we made a visit to a local center that houses women (and their children) who’ve struggled with addiction. We’ve already planned a Summer fund raiser where we’ll sell friendship bracelets the girls will make themselves, and take the money to give to an organization that educates HIV/AIDS infected people in Africa. Working together on these projects has brought a deeper level of connection between all of us, and given our group deeper meaning.


We put a high premium on encouragement. The girls really have grown in this area. When one of the girls shares a problem, the other girls do such a good job of listening, asking questions, and sharing their perspectives. Even though not all the problems are “solved,” our group has done a great job of offering encouragement and support.

Respect The Rules

From the beginning, we established rules for our group. Many of our “spoken” rules come out of the characteristics I’ve already mentioned. Some of the unspoken rules are respecting me as their leader, listening to me when I talk, and being polite when it comes to needing to leaving early or stepping out for the restroom. Rules are important. But, it’s small group not boot camp. We have a good time. And believe it or not, respect for the rules actually helps this happen.

These aren’t the only characteristics of effective small groups, but they have worked for me.

  • What characteristics would you add to this list?

Brendt Blanks is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has led more small groups than she can remember. She is experienced in working with teenagers in a variety of counseling settings, and volunteers with her church, leading a discipleship group of junior high girls. Brendt lives in Birmingham, AL with her husband, Andy, and their three daughters.

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Andy Blanks
Andy Blanks is the co-founder of youthministry360, a ministry committed to equipping youth workers through resources, training, community, and networking. Andy is passionate about God’s Word and the transformation it brings in the lives of God’s people. Andy is a writer, teacher, speaker, and a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. He lives in Birmingham, AL with his wife and three daughters. Check out Andy’s youth ministry posts on the ym360 Blog (www.youthministry360.com/blog).

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