Note: This article is excerpted from the SmallGroups.com training resource Overcoming Growth Plateaus.
Back in the 70's Jackson Browne recorded a song entitled "Running on Empty." One of the lines from the song was, "I don't know where I'm running now, I'm just running on empty." You may feel that way sometimes about your small group. You may have also heard or uttered the following statements about group life: "I feel stuck." "We are not moving forward, but at least we are not going backward." "Our group meets every week and we usually have a great time together, but we're not growing."
If you look up the word plateau on www.dictionary.com, the primary definition is "a land area having a relatively level surface considerably raised above adjoining land on at least one side, and often cut by deep canyons." It also means "to reach a state or level of little or no growth or decline, especially to stop increasing or progressing; remain at a stable level of achievement; to level off."
Unfortunately, this happens many times in small-group ministry. And there are many reasons why individual groups level off and plateau. Here are a few of them (addressed in the order of their difficulty to overcome):
- The leader plateaus (he or she is not growing spiritually)
- The group plateaus (the group does not have a vision or plan for reaching new people)
- The church plateaus (the church is not reaching any new people and groups level off)
When a Leader Plateaus
Overcoming the plateau of personal growth is simple. (It may not feel simple to implement, but it is not that hard to understand.) If you are not growing spiritually, go back to some solid spiritual growth habits that have worked for you in the past and repeat them. It reminds me of the passage in Revelation 2:4: "I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first."
In my life there are times when I get so busy studying or preparing to teach a lesson that I neglect the simple discipline of reading God's Word. That's why for the last few years I have made a commitment to read through the entire Bible each year. The plan that I use is called the "One Year Bible," and it is available online. I find that when I am reading God's Word, I am much more aware of God's voice. In John 10:28 Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me." Did you know that if you read through the Bible in a year, you read about 22 chapters a week? Taking in 22 chapters a week of the "living and powerful" Word of God will change you from the inside out. Your mind will be renewed (Romans 12:2) and your spirit will be refreshed (Galatians 5:22).
When a Group Plateaus
The next challenge is that the group plateaus. You as the leader are still committed to practicing healthy spiritual disciplines and you feel confident in saying, "Follow me, as I follow Christ"—but for some reason the group has leveled off. This one is a little more difficult to address because you are not dealing with one individual.
To get a group of people to row at the same time and in the same direction requires a certain amount of leadership skills. Those leadership skills include having a vision of where to go, being able to communicate clearly the reasons why we need to go, communicating how we are going to get there, motivating the group to sacrifice for the cause of Christ, and also being able to motivate and train new leaders for new groups.