Advice for Dividing Student Small Groups

I’m always afraid to answer small group questions with a “this is how you do it” answer. Why? Because all small groups are unique and I’m not convinced there is “a” way to do it—there are several ways. Here are some of my thoughts,

1. Breaking students into small groups is never easy.

2. Breaking students into smaller groups when groups grow is never easy.

3. You can lessen the pain when you use the term “launch” instead of “split” (i.e. “we’ll be launching a new group out of this group because great things are happening in here.”). Launch can be positive. Split can be negative.

4. Let small groups know from the beginning that “launching” new groups is an exciting thing. Tell them it’s a real possibility when the size of the group reaches ___ number of students (___ = whatever you decide on).

5. There will be a natural decline in intimacy when students start a new group—that’s normal. If the group just started two weeks ago, most likely your groups haven’t begun to scratch the surface of intimacy.

6. If your groups are “open groups” (meaning students can be added as they arrive) you’ll always face this “problem” (what a great problem to have!). As students in their small groups grow spiritually, they will most likely reach out to their [lost] friends and invite them to join. The only way I know to keep the numbers small and not disrupt the small groups is to change your philosophy to a “closed group” (meaning that once a group starts, it stays that number until the quarter/semester/school year is over, whatever you decide on)…and when a new student comes, he/she begins in a group that isn’t “full”. There are pros and cons to either choice.

7. Term your changes “experiments” and be willing to allow them to fail (who cares if something goes wrong if it was an “experiment”). Learn from your experiments and begin to develop principles for small groups that you’re passionate about and/or ones that work for your particular youth ministry setting.  

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Doug Fields
Doug Fields has been in youth ministry since 1979 and former pastor to students at Saddleback Church in Southern California. He's the author of 50+ books, including the best-selling Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry & Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry. He's also the founder of Simply Youth Ministry, an instructor at Azusa Pacific University/HomeWord, and on the leadership team with Youth Specialties. You can connect with Doug through his blog at! More from Doug Fields or visit/subscribe to Doug's blog at