How Not to Start a Small Group Ministry

How small groups started in a church that had decided they "wouldn't work there."

Question: Three years ago our church tried small groups and failed. They organized three groups with 25 people in each group. They met in place of Sunday-night service for about three months. The groups shrank quickly, and the church leaders concluded that small groups wouldn't work here.

About five months ago, five young single adults formed a group apart from the "official" church. They have doubled in size. Since then, two more groups of couples have formed on their own. I have been informally helping these groups. The leadership in our church is weak-we have two elders, but soon we may have none. The three groups are full of potential leaders who want to wait a few years before getting involved in official leadership. Should the church get involved and oversee these groups? Should we start new groups or just stay out of the way?

Answer: What you describe sounds both exciting and a little intimidating-and not that unusual. When the church started those first groups, they did a number of things wrong.

The groups were too big. Twelve people is usually the biggest group that will work. No wonder the groups shrank: most of the 25 people in the groups didn't have a chance to participate. These weren't small groups, so in fact "small groups" didn't fail!

It is never a good idea to replace an ongoing, traditional program with a new one. The new ministry turns out to be the bad guy-the reason "my program isn't around anymore."

Three months is not enough time to give a new ministry a chance to succeed.

You do not mention any planning process that went into developing a small groups ministry. Planning and research would have helped church leaders avoid the mistakes.

You do not mention any training of small group leaders. Training ...

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