Questions that Reveal Poor Small Group Health

Ask yourself these questions when assessing your small group's health.

As the group leader, is my walk with God incomplete?

When it comes to group health, there may be no more important question than this one. I cannot take a group to a spiritual place I have not been myself.

Just what is it that makes me an effective small group leader? Is it seminary education or years of experience in small groups? Is it the ability to think up creative ideas? As helpful as all of those things are, I have come to the conviction that my most important asset as a small group leader is knowing Christ deeply.

Jesus said that when a disciple is fully trained, he will end up being like his discipler. That can be either good or tragic. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for transferring their lack of depth to their converts, even the ones they traveled over land and sea to win.

The place where the shepherding and discipling of my small group begins is with my own relationship to my Savior. I ask myself daily, "Is my life the example of Christ to the members of my small group?"

If group members have to call and cancel, are they secretly relieved?

Do people look forward to attending the weekly group meeting and are sorry if they have to miss, or are they privately glad when something comes up to prevent them from attending?

Do group members interact with each other only at the group meeting?

Do the people in the group fail to seek each other out during the week or at weekend worship? Are the relationships deepening to the "lifestyle" level?

Has it been a while since I, as the leader, said, "Let's open our Bibles to…"?

Is the group in a rut when it comes to the topics and materials we use for our study time? When was the last time I tried a different author's series of study guides? When was the last time we just opened the Bible and talked about it? Other questions include: Is there a lack of personal application to Scripture? Do people not feel they have permission to say, "Here's what I struggle with in this passage"?

At the meetings, is the prayer time all about "someone else, somewhere else?"

Are the prayer requests about "Aunt Jane's uncle's mailman's dog trainer"—but never about what's going on in my heart? Does anyone feel permission to confess, "Here's what I'm wrestling with right now"? Do the group members view the group meeting as a safe place? I know my group is in trouble when authenticity seems out of place.

Are the events planned outside the regular meetings only social and self-fulfilling in nature? How would my group feel about the following real-life examples?

  • A men's discipleship group that held a birthday party for one of its members at Hooters.

  • A young couples' small group that went together to see the explicitly sexual movie, Eyes Wide Shut.

  • Another young couples' group that gave up their vacations and personal funds to spend a week serving together at an orphanage in a third-world country.

If my group seems closer to the first two stories than the third, I probably need to address some issues of spiritual health.

Can I tell how often my group members have been in our church's corporate worship services lately?

If I cannot remember whether or not I have seen group members at church, they are probably not attending regularly. The life of a small group should be inseparable from the community life of the congregation as a whole. Anything less can lead to an imbalanced spiritual life and even divisiveness in the church.

Are we too familiar with the details of my living room?

That is, are we getting out of our meeting place often enough and hitting the streets together in the Name of Christ? Comfort is a bad small group habit: the same meeting, in the same place, done the same way, week after week, until everyone is numb. An inward group is not a balanced group. Every group needs outreach, sharing with others, getting out the word about Jesus, and meeting needs in his Name. Also, have we multiplied lately—whom are we sending out to begin new groups?

When was the last time anyone sacrificed anything for the sake of the group?

Including me, as the leader, are group members willing to sacrifice time for the sake of the group meeting and the lives of others in the group? Are they willing to experience the hassle of opening up their home? Are they willing to sacrifice time and even money to a project the group wants to tackle together? Are we regularly doing things that intentionally stretch our faith? Are we stepping out of our comfort zones to a place where we depend on God?

Have we faced a tragedy lately?

Nothing draws a group together like gathering around a group member and supporting them during a time of severe trial. I once visited a small group in California that had formed about two years prior to my visit. After they had been meeting for two months, one of their members was diagnosed with a terminal cancer. The focus of the group completely changed. They recognized that God had brought them together to walk this man through his journey to death. And then, after he was gone, they continued their ministry with his wife so that she would not be left alone. If my group has not been through a trial together lately, maybe I should pray for one! If I am a wise leader, I will accept a tragedy with open arms as an opportunity for my group to minister for Christ in a way that is unmistakably real. Groups that never allow tragedy to draw them together miss out on the ministry of Jesus in its purest form.

Would I be afraid to ask the members of my group, "Are you farther along spiritually than you were a year ago?"

No sense of spiritual progress points to an ineffective group.

Is there anyone in the group bold enough to speak of death when the funeral is inevitable?

There are many reasons why it could be time to kill my group. Some groups do not need to call it quits—they need to hang in there and work through those interpersonal problems. As a group leader, I need to give myself permission to accept the reality that every group will eventually die. EVERY group. Group death is a natural part of the flow of group life. And if our group is at that stage, we need to have a funeral, hug each other, and let it die.

Free Newsletter

Sign up for our Weekly newsletter: Regular access to innovative training resources, Bible-based curriculum, and practical articles.


Eliminate Barriers to Community

Eliminate Barriers to Community

Structure your groups for maximum participation.
The Power of Vision

The Power of Vision

Articulate a clear vision for your ministry and see the amazing results.
What You Can Do to Develop More Women Small-Group Pastors

What You Can Do to Develop More Women Small-Group Pastors

Despite a plethora of female group leaders, few small-group pastors are women.
The Right Way to Do Small Groups

The Right Way to Do Small Groups

What I've learned from years of small group consulting
Multi-Site Small-Group Ministries Don't Have to Be Chaotic

Multi-Site Small-Group Ministries Don't Have to Be Chaotic

How one multi-site pioneer structures small-group ministry for success
Become a Church of Groups

Become a Church of Groups

Make small groups the core of your church, not just another ministry.