5 Characteristics of Lame Small Groups
By Casey Hampton
Everywhere we look, church is changing. With a generation emerging that has values different than its predecessors, small groups have grown increasingly popular. Small Groups Pastor positions are some of the most sought after, and one of the most difficult to fill. Many times, we recognize the need for small groups, but are unaware about how to successfully build and/or maintain them.
If your church has lame small groups, you’re going to lose visitors. The worship experience and friendly community attracts people to your church, but the effectiveness of your small groups is what will retain or retract your visitors.
In my experience, churches who avoid these five characteristics of lame small groups and intentionally develop effective small groups have the best long-term discipleship results.
Lame small groups are…
1. Big. Effective small groups start small. One of the biggest mistakes we make as church staff or small group leaders is to think a group needs to have 15 members over night. In this case, bigger is not usually better. Bigger groups are harder to maintain and coordinate, not to mention it is much harder for a group of 15 individuals to truly connect with one another. Enjoy the time you get to spend as a small group of 3 or 4 or 5. One day you will miss the quality one-on-one time you get to spend with the people who become your extended family.
2. Decentralized. Effective small groups start local. Unless you live in a rural area, you aren’t going to drive 30 minutes to “do life” with people you don’t know well. The individuals with whom you spend the most time are those who are near you. My and my husband’s best friends moved into our neighborhood last year. Although our families were close before, we now consider them a part of our family. The short walk and even shorter drive to their house enabled us to easily get together, grill out, borrow a cup of milk, or just stop by for a late night chat.
As you look towards beginning your group, or even bringing fresh life into a struggling group, don’t write off the power of proximity. In my experience, three neighbors deciding they want to study a certain topic or get together for lunch once a week creates some of the best small groups. Groups are able to grow organically this way and will be able to more easily sustain longevity.
3. Purposeless. Effective small groups are intentional. So you started small and you found a couple of neighbors who have agreed to meet once a week… now what? Just getting together, although enjoyable, does not equate to biblical community. It is so easy to get carried away with small talk or the latest sports event that you never speak of any topic concerning Jesus or a relationship with Him. This is where you have to ensure you are being intentional about the time you spend together.
Each group needs to have a discussion about expectations and what it looks like for you. Book or DVD studies are often a good way to keep your group on target. You can and should still spend time catching up, but you also go into the evening knowing that there is an agenda, which will help prevent your entire evening from slipping by unnoticed.
4. Unrealistic. Effective small groups set realistic expectations. Life gets busy, so there’s no use in denying it. Meet with your group and set a realistic meeting schedule. There is no shame in only meeting twice a month. It is better to meet less frequently than to over-commit to weekly meetings and cancel them three times out of four. If your group has a realistic meeting schedule, your members will strive to make the scheduled meetings.
Additionally, know that you don’t have to meet for long periods of time. If all you have to give is an hour of your time, not a problem, but make it count. Scheduling group lunches occasionally will also help you connect with each other, which will free up “official meeting time” for your predetermined study/discussion agenda.
5. Rigid. Effective small groups are open and flexible. The purpose of a small group is learning, but more importantly, to connect with others who share a similar set of beliefs. Be open to changes in your scheduled agenda. If one of your members has had a hard week, or is struggling in their marriage, you should feel free to take the time to offer a listening ear. Pray together. Cry together. Eat together. Be open to the plans God has for your meeting, even if they aren’t what you were expecting. Don’t worry if a group member is late, or if their babysitter calls in sick and you suddenly have a screaming 2-year-old join your group.
Enjoy every opportunity you have to spend time with your group members, regardless of how messy it may feel in the moment. Moments like those are the ones that turn strangers into friends, and friends into family.
What other characteristics should be included in this list of lame small groups?