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Part 3: Small Group Topics

Discussion About Miscellaneous Topics

can come from members, lay leaders, and pastors (concepts from Small Group Strategy for the Church of the Future, Carl George, 1991.)

Well-connected church members often don't feel the need for small groups because they are already connected. They may also resist because

  • in a small-group-oriented church, power may be realigned.
  • they have difficulty allowing for the "re-purposing" of existing church meetings.
  • they tend to prefer less personal and traditional fellowship to the more personal nature and expectation of accountability within small groups.
  • they expect care at crucial times from ordained clergy only.
  • they have had a negative small group experience (e.g., the leaders were not growing)
  • they may have been taught models of small groups which are not open and expandable.
  • those who have developed close friendships may fear the loss of what they have
  • Many key lay leaders are burned out on multiple commitments and may put up resistance to small groups. Some have had experience in a group with a misbehaving EGR (Extra Grace Required) member. They may have tried to lead groups which outgrew their ability to care and gotten burned out, not having learned to develop an assistant or apprentice leader.

    Pastors resist the small group format for several reasons:


  • they are fearful of schisms
  • they are afraid of false doctrine being proliferated.
  • they are jealous that the "strokes" they have historically received will be given to lay people instead.
  • they don't believe they have the skills needed to motivate group leaders.
  • they fear they will lose exclusive authority in giving guidance to church life.

  • for a Healthy Group

    The commitment of affirmation: There is nothing you have done or will do that will make me stop loving you. I may not agree with your actions, but I will love you as a person (loved by God) and do all I can to hold you up in God's affirming love.

    The commitment of availability: Anything I have—time, energy, insight, possessions—is at your disposal if you need it, to the limit of my resources. I give these to you in a priority of commitment over other non-commitment demands. As part of this availability I pledge my time on a regular basis, whether in prayer or at an agreed-on meeting time.

    The commitment of prayer: I commit to pray for you in some regular fashion, believing that our caring Father wishes his children to pray for one another and ask Him for the blessings they need.

    The commitment of openness: I promise to strive to become a more open person, disclosing my feelings, my struggles, my joys, and my hurts to you as well as I am able. The degree to which I do so implies that I cannot make it without you, that I trust you with my problems and my dreams, and that I need you. This is to affirm your worth to me as a person. In other words, I need you!

    The commitment of honesty: I will try to mirror back to you what I am hearing you say and feel. If this means risking pain for either of us, I will trust our relationship enough to take that risk, realizing it is in "speaking the truth in love that we grow up in every way into Christ who is the head"—Ephesians 4:15. I will try to express this honesty in a sensitive and controlled manner and to meter it, according to what I perceive the circumstances to be.

    The commitment of sensitivity: Even as I desire to be known and understood by you, I commit to be sensitive to you and your needs to the best of my ability. I will try to hear you, see you, and feel where you are and to encourage you when you are down.

    The commitment of confidentiality: I will promise to keep whatever is shared within the confines of the Small Group in order to provide the atmosphere of permission necessary for openness.

    The commitment of accountability: I consider that the gifts God has given me for the common good should be liberated for your benefit. If I should discover areas of my life that are under bondage, hung up, or truncated by my own misdoing or by the scars inflicted by others, I will seek Christ's liberating power through the Holy Spirit and through my commitment partners so that I might give to you more of myself. I am accountable to you to become what God has designed me to be in His loving creation.

    The commitment of participation: I commit myself to participate fully in the life of this group by sharing some responsibilities in achieving the goals of this group. I realize that as a member of the body of Christ, I have been given certain gifts to be shared for the common good of all. (I Cor. 12) Therefore, I commit myself to sharing those gifts with you.


    Adapted from Serendipity Training Manual for Groups, by Lyman Coleman. Serendipity House, Littleton, Colorado, 1989.

    Problem #1: AIMLESSNESS

    Groups fail because they are not going anywhere; they have no purpose, sense of mission, or clearly defined goals.

    Solution—Go back to square one and recommit yourself to your purpose, your goals, your rules, and your disciplines.

    The leader has a key role at two times in the life of a beginner group: (1) at the beginning, to help the group clarify its purpose, and (2) at the close, to help the group evaluate its experience and decide if it wants to continue...and if so, what the new covenant will be for the next period.

    The questions that need clarification at the beginning of the group for the original covenant are:

    1. Why do we want to have a small group?
    2. What do you personally want to get out of this group?
    3. What goals do we want to adopt as a small group?
    4. What day will we meet? How many times a month?
    5. What time will we meet?
    6. What will be our commitment to start and close on time?
    7. Will we meet at the same place, or will we rotate?
    8. What ingredients do we want included in our group? What ingredients does the church desire?
    9. What will make this group "successful" or worth the time involved?
    10. How will relationships among the members be built?
    11. How will the group use the Bible in its life together?
    12. What part will prayer occupy in the group?
    13. What level of commitment and work will we have? How hard do we want to work?
    14. What pattern of leadership will we use? What pattern is the church asking us to use?
    15. Who should take responsibility to help the group achieve its goals?

    The questions that need clarification at the end of the group are:

    1. Did we achieve our purpose? (On a scale from 1 to 10)
    2. Did we accomplish our goals? (On a scale from 1 to 10)
    3. What did we find most helpful about the group? Least helpful?
    4. How did we function? (On a scale from 1 to 10)
    5. Should we continue? (If not, let's have a party and say good-bye.)
    6. If yes, what will be our new purpose? New goals? New rules?
    7. How long will we meet in the next period... before we evaluate again?


    Problem #2: EXCLUSIVENESS

    Some groups feel that to be “close” (or keep the discipline of confidentiality), they cannot allow new people in. This is especially a problem when the group gets to need-sharing.

    Solution 1—Empty Chair: Pull an empty chair into the group in the closing prayer time and consciously pray that God will fill the chair with the person that He wants to come to the next meeting. The empty chair will be a constant reminder that your group is "open" to other strugglers.

    Solution 2—Rolling Covenants: If you are adhering to the process of group building, you need to protect the intimacy and confidentiality of the group during the time of need-sharing.

    To accomplish both the need to be "open" and the need to be "closed," we recommend the strategy of rolling covenants. In the first covenant period of the group, the first half of the time is "open" and the second half is "closed." Then, if the group wishes to renew its covenant and continue, it is "open" for the first half and "closed" for the second half, etc., through the life of the group.



    Some people clam up in groups and can't share, while others tend to talk too much or overwhelm the shy person.

    Solution—The Fearless Foursome. Divide into groups of four when the time comes for sharing. In 4s, the quiet person will feel relaxed and the talkative one will not dominate as much. In fact, in 4s, most of the problems of "group dynamics" are automatically avoided.

    Q. Does this mean that the group meets only in 4s?

    A. No, the group gathers at the beginning of the meeting for coffee and refreshments. Then, the group divides into 4s for the Bible study/sharing time. And finally, the group regathers at the close for the caring time—a time for prayer requests and prayer.

    Q. Do you stay with the same group of four every meeting?

    A. No, you reshuffle the 4s every meeting so that everyone gets to know each other.


    GATHERING/15 Minutes/All Together

    Refreshments are served as the group gathers and assignments made to sub-groups of 4.

    SHARING/30-45 minutes/Groups of 4

    Sub-groups are formed to discuss the questions at hand.

    CARING/15-30 Minutes/All Together

    Regather the whole group to share prayer requests and pray.


    Problem #4: SUPERFICIALITY

    Too often small groups avoid real depth sharing by staying on a head-to-head level. Even good Bible study can become a substitute for real sharing and real caring.

    Solution—Save the last 30 minutes of the group time for "caring." Have a timekeeper "call time" and regather the sub-groups of 4 (if you are meeting in 4s) for a time of prayer requests and caring at the close.

    Q. How do you allow for balance between the social, nurture, and support needs in a group?

    A. By having an agenda with time for each of these three elements.

    Q. Can a rigid agenda cramp the leadership of the Holy Spirit in the group?

    A. Of course, this is always a danger. But people in a group will probably feel more comfortable if they know where the agenda is going, and in the long run, the group will probably stay balanced and healthy.


    Gathering (15 Minutes). Consists of fellowship and small talk, "mouth to mouth" communication. Serve refreshments as people gather.

    Sharing (30 Minutes). Consists of Bible study and discussion: "head to head" communication. Read and discuss the Scripture, using search questions that force you into the text.

    Caring (30 Minutes). Consists of sharing prayer requests and praying together. "Heart to heart" communication. Ask for prayer requests and then move into prayer.


    Problem #5: INDISCRETION

    The opposite of being superficial is going too far into needs or problems that the group does not know how to handle.

    CASE STUDY: In your group of 4, you are just finishing up your Bible study when Bob mumbles under his breath that he wishes he could get control of his temper, especially toward his teenage son who he "beat up" on last night. The host for the night has just rung the bell and asked all groups to return to the living room for the close. What should you do as the leader of your group of 4?

    CASE STUDY: Mary has sat in silence most of the night, silently crying. The meeting is ready to adjourn and she is still sitting there. Finally she says in front of the whole group, "This is the last time Bob and I will be coming to the group. Bob wants out of our marriage. Bob is furious for 'letting the cat out of the bag.'" What do you do as a group?



  • Don't leave a person stranded when he/she has gone "too far" in sharing something. Assure him/her that it was okay, and that you will keep what has been shared in strict confidence.
  • Don't give ANY advice. You can say something like, "I really appreciate what you have shared" or, "I will remember this thing in prayer" or, "Here's my phone number; I want you to call me the next time this happens..." etc. But advice is a "no-no."
  • Do discuss what you feel is appropriate to share in your group beforehand.
  • Do make sure that you have a back-up system for deeper needs, such as the Stephen Ministries (see below).
  • Do follow the discipline of confidentiality. The only exception to this rule would be if a person threatens to hurt himself/herself or someone else. (If this should happen, go to the person first and tell him/her that you cannot keep this information to yourself, but would be willing to help this person to find help.)

    The best training program available for special caregiving is the Stephen Ministry. If you would like to know more about how to train some Stephen Ministers in your church, call: Stephen Ministries St. Louis, 2045 Innerbelt Business Center Drive, St. Louis, MO 63114-5765. Phone: 314-428-2600 Fax: 314-428-7888.


    Problem #6: Group Burnout

    A lot of groups stay in "first gear" all the time, and end up consuming a lot of energy or burning up the motor.

    Solution—Shift gears from time to time. We recommend three shifts over the life cycle of the group to prevent burnout.

    First Gear: Getting started, you need a lot of intensity and structure. We recommend meeting every week for 6 to 12 weeks, with a structured agenda that concentrates on group building.

    Second Gear: Gaining speed, you can shift gears to cut back on the energy consumption and go twice as far with the same amount of energy. For instance, you might cut back on your group meetings to every other week, so that you can devote the other time to your mission or task, or use the extra time to recruit and train leaders for new groups.

    High Gear: For the long haul, you shift one more time to a gear that economizes most of your energy while maintaining your speed. For instance, after the first year, you might shift to a monthly reunion meeting, so that you can concentrate on starting new groups that meet the other three weeks.

    In the life cycle of a group, sometimes the longer it lasts, the lesser the intensity.


    Problem #7: Leadership

    The number one reason small groups fail in the church is the failure of leadership on one of three levels: 1) Pastoral level, 2) Management level, and 3) Group leader training.

    Solution—Starting with the pastor and the entire staff and board, develop a three-year battle plan for equipping and releasing the laity, with measurable goals for each year… and include in this plan the recruiting and training of leaders for small groups.

    In the 6+6+6 Leadership Training Model, the First 6-week period is devoted to a Pilot Group, led by a trainer who uses a six-week course from the Serendipity New Testament.

    During the Second 6, the pilot group members practice teaching. The leadership of the group rotates, and the group again uses a six-week course from the Bible. With the group's help, the trainer evaluates each member after the session he/she has led.

    During the Third 6, the members of the pilot group start their own groups, inviting friends for a six-week "experiment" in small groups. They choose a six-week course from the Bible. The trainer supervises these new leaders with a Saturday morning "report-in" breakfast sometime during those six weeks.


  • Attempt to define and describe the conflict in cooperative terms (as a common problem).
  • Try to deal with issues rather than personalities.
  • Deal with one issue at a time.
  • Attempt to persuade one another rather than using threats, intimidation, and power plays.
  • Focus on issues while they are small rather than permitting them to grow over time and become large ones.
  • Opt for full disclosure of all facts rather than allowing "hidden agendas" (left-over feelings or old arguments not settled) to function.
  • Encourage the validation of the other parties' interests or concerns. (Feelings are valid no matter what the facts are.)
  • Emphasize what you still hold in common.
  • Attempt to portray a trusting and friendly attitude.
  • Opt for a "win-win" feeling (i.e., there is a piece of the pie for each one) rather than a "win-lose" feeling.
  • Attempt to generate as many new ideas and as much new information as possible in order to broaden the perspective of all persons involved.
  • Involve all principal parties in the conflict at a common meeting.
  • Clarify whether you are dealing with one conflict or multiple conflicts.
  • Source: Neal F. McBride, How to Lead Small Groups, (Nav Press, 1991).

    Continue to Part 4 of the Small Group Leaders Manual