You've worked hard to prepare for your first small group: the invitations have been sent, the curriculum selected, the brownies baked. Everything you need for an amazing small-group experience! Except … it's not that easy. It takes much more than good marketing to make a small group actually thrive. And if you aren't careful, you can kill yours in three easy steps:
Step #1: Misread Purpose
Kill your group fast by misreading its purpose. Take a bunch of people who've never met and expect them to be really vulnerable in the first meeting. Or take a group of men who've never studied the Bible and ask them questions using words like atonement, predestination, or lexicons. Or you can take a group of thoughtful, educated businesswomen and tell them you'll be making a magnet craft with puffy paint every week.
Step #2: Don't Prepare
Another easy killer is to spend more time preparing the brownies than your content. Use poorly written curriculum on topics that don't interest or challenge anyone. Better yet, don't prepare at all—just read the questions out of the book as you go along. Nothing says, "I care about you being here" like a leader who clearly hasn't done any work in advance.
Step #3: Become a Gossip Column
Proverbs 18:8 says, "Rumors are dainty morsels that sink deep into one's heart." There is a part of us that responds to juicy information. But there is a part of us that knows this kind of talk doesn't bring life at all. If you want to kill your small group, allow a gossip to dominate the conversation. Let people disguise their complaints about others in the guise of prayer requests, and even when you don't like it, allow it to continue.
If you don't have the gossip problem, you can still kill the group. Just allow anyone to dominate the conversation. Whether it's a prayer request or a continual problem relationship, allowing a small-group member to become the focal point of your time doesn't just distract others—it actually detracts from the group by taking your focus off Christ.
Before this article makes you give up on small groups forever, take heart! The good news about these killers is that doing the opposite can make your small group great.
The first small-group killer is to misread its purpose—the first secret to thriving is casting vision. What is the purpose of your group? Is it for growing relationships? Learning more about God through Scripture? A support group? Small groups can be tricky because they can be any number of things. The secret to making yours thrive is to be clear with the expectations of the group.
The second small-group killer is lack of preparation—the second secret to thriving is deciding to lead. In my experience leading in ministry, I often find that leaders underestimate their importance, which undermines their confidence. Yet when you decide to lead a group, in some ways you become a pastor. You shepherd, teach, counsel, and encourage. Do not make light of this call! Instead, you should "lead a life worthy of your calling" (Ephesians 4:1). If you take this call to lead seriously, you will pray for your group. You will plan for them by being at least a week ahead of the group in content. You will spend time thinking of ways to apply your lesson. You will think through the flow of each meeting and make sure you are facilitating each lesson well. You will ask for feedback. And you will grow. This is the blessing of leadership, and it's worth the work.
The final small-group killer is allowing gossip or one dominant individual to run the show. But you can encourage your group to thrive by making time for everyone. This might mean gently redirecting the group by saying, "Thanks, Mary, for sharing. Let's get back to it in a minute after we've heard from everyone." This may mean going directly to prayer and not stopping at prayer requests at all (which can often derail the group). It might even mean talking with "Mary" individually. But it does mean dealing with the situation as creatively as necessary to allow others to be active members of the group.
Leading a small group is hard work—but it can also be one of the most rewarding leadership opportunities of your life. Don't let one of these killers detract from the life-giving experience that small groups can offer!
—Nicole Unice is a ministry leader at Hope Church in Richmond, VA, and the author of She's Got Issues. This article originally appeared on our sister site, GiftedForLeadership.com; copyright 2012 by Christianity Today.