It's good to have a growing group where new people are regularly stopping by. On the other hand, if your group's too big and stays too big, your entire group will suffer. Here's why:
- You'll have trouble shepherding. It simply takes more time, energy, and skill to lead a larger group of people. Because most of us don't have tons of extra time to spare, when the numbers go up, care goes down.
- You'll have trouble finding an apprentice. You might think it'll be easier because you have more people to choose from, but most people will be intimidated to help you lead such a large group.
- We can hide. And when we can, we usually do.
- We get more casual about showing up. When there's just a few of us, I know people will notice my absence. When there are a lot of us, my absence won't be felt as much.
- We are hesitant to share. If we have 30 minutes for sharing and there are 10 people, I know I won't have time to unpack all that's involved in my situation. So, I keep quiet about it.
- We become ingrown. When the room seems full, we're more hesitant to invite others into our community—we don't want to feel overcrowded. Because nobody new is coming, it's just natural to fold in on ourselves. We forget that small groups are meant to be a light to the world, not just about us.
- We exercise our spiritual gifts less. Simply due to our size, the majority of us become spectators and let a few do all the serving. On the other hand, when we're small, it takes all of us shouldering the load.
- We don't feel as much ownership. When I don't feel I'm needed in the group (my gifts, my insights, etc.), I take less ownership. It becomes the leader's group that I simply attend rather than our group that I have a stake in.
- We have more childcare issues. When there are only a few kids, we can easily find something for them to do during our meeting. When there are lots of kids, we need to find mature individuals to watch them, find a large space for them to play, and deal with louder noise. The kids aren't the problem; it's the sheer number of them.
- We easily forget why we exist. You'll be so busy caring for group members, childcare issues, and problems like a lack of ownership that you won't be able to focus on people outside the group. The small group then becomes something to meet group members' needs rather than a loving community that compels us to connect unconnected people into meaningful community.
Don't wait until your group is too large to deal with it. Always be training an apprentice to lead his or her own group one day. Be proactive instead of reactive, and you'll never let your group become too large.
—Jay Firebaugh is the Director of Small Groups at New Life Church in Gahanna, Ohio. You can check out practical tools for pastors and small-group leaders on his All About Small Groups Facebook page. Used with permission from the author.