The small group goes through stages of life, much like a person does. It is not surprising that people pass through different levels of understanding and ability. Two year olds are not expected to have the same tolerance level as 32 year olds. Likewise, in small-group ministries, we should not expect a recently formed group to "have its act together" the same way a long-standing group does.
There are six stages of a group's life cycle and corresponding characteristics for each. Remember, every group is different, and there is no set time frame for how long a group will go through its life cycle or each stage in it.
Birth-The first step for any group is its forming. With any new venture there is a lack of ability in many areas that are crucial for group life. In time these develop, just as children grow. We must give the the group lots of attention and care at this point.
At this stage, group members recognize the basic purposes of the group and have agreed to pursue them. The group begins to show signs of life in sharing and caring. There is acknowledgement of leadership. The leader gives firm but gentle direction.
Early Childhood-After the fragile state of formation, the group moves into the exciting time of early childhood. There is rapid growth in pursuing the goals for which the members are gathered. Watch for some childhood characteristics to occur during this period. First, there is the possibility of some sibling rivalry between brothers and sisters in Christ. This is the annoyance stage, when little things provoke some uneasiness. A short attention span or short commitment is another characteristic to watch for. Don't be surprised if some try the group for a while and then disappear. This is normal.
But even in the midst ...