How effective are our small groups at accomplishing their goal? That depends on what the goal is. If the goal is to talk about college football, then I’ve witnessed a men’s small groups that is thriving. If, on the other hand, your goal is to do things like 1) encourage one another, 2) edify one another, 3) make disciples, 4) pray, 5) study God’s Word, 6) etc., then some small groups aren’t doing it right.
Here are a few telltale signs that your small group is doing it wrong.
Ten Signs Your Small Group Is Doing It Wrong
1. You have no plan.
Some churches, enamored of the idea of small groups fall into it without a plan. This is a mistake. A small group needs to be, at the risk of sounding cliche, purpose driven. To be more specific, you should have some idea of what you’re doing when you get seven or eight people meeting in someone’s home on Sunday night. Are you there to shoot the breeze, sing some worship songs, watch some football, or study the book of Philippians? Maybe you should “let the Spirit lead?” By all means, let the Spirit lead, but don’t use that as an excuse for doing absolutely no planning before hand.
2. You never study the Bible or pray.
Instead, you study Christian living books. Or you talk about health concerns. Or you talk about problems in the church. Or football. All those things are find to talk about, but don’t neglect some of the most crucial things — prayer and God’s Word! If you drop these from the small group agenda, you’re wasting your time.
3. You argue all the time.
I’ve been in some small groups where “robust discussion” was the most important thing. However, “robust discussion” was code word for “let’s argue about really controversial theological topics.” I’m just as eager to wield the theological sword as the next guy. I didn’t spend drop thousands in seminary tuition for nothing. But there’s a point at which seminary swashbuckling must give way to fellowship and encouragement. It’s important to stand one’s ground on crucial theological topics. Don’t use this as an excuse to challenge everyone’s assumptions, prayer request phrasing, and curious expressions of spiritual insight.
4. You have no idea who’s going through a hard time, having a baby, about to get a divorce, or unable to pay the bills.
A small group is a support network. These are the people that help to fulfill the biblical command to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). It’s important to make sure that you find out what those burdens are. Find out where you as a group can help.
5. You don’t know everyone in your small group.
The whole point of a small group is that it’s small. “Small” is usually less than 15 people, certainly not more than 20. If there are small children involved, this number is fuzzy, but when it comes to the number of adults, it’s hard to have a “small” group with a crowd of more than 15.
6. You rarely interact with each other outside of small group.
A small group isn’t just for occasional meetings. It’s for life — for the hardships, trials, joys, and triumphs. That happens more often than just Wednesdays from 7-8pm. As a small group, make an effort to be closely connected on the real life level.
7. You’ve become a clique.
The great thing about small groups is that they become a very tight-knit group of people. But there’s a risk involved, too. Such a group of people can degenerate into cliquishness, which I’m pretty sure is a violation of the command to love. In spite of the close knit nature of your fellowship, be welcoming to people — like non-Christian friends, for example — who may want to discover what this is all about.
8. You just do preaching.
I’m all for preaching, but a small group does something different. There is something going on that’s interactive, not just proclamatory. Small group meetings are most effective when everyone is involved to discover, share, learn, pray, question, respond, contribute, and participate in the process. Save your sermons for another time, and focus on the give-and-take opportunity that the group affords.
9. You are forced to awkwardly spill your guts.
I’m all about transparency, but there is no rule of small groups that you must divulge all your misdeeds and transgressions. I’ve seen some small group experiences that expect such catharsis. Scripture indeed exhorts us to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16), but a small group meeting does not always facilitate the best time for this. It’s fine to gently encourage transparency, but do not require that the small group become a therapeutic confessional. Such experiences can be awkward to the point of damaging for some people.
10. All you do is eat.
As good first-world American Christians, we love to eat. Eating is great. But try to do more than just eat during your small group sessions.
Small groups are a powerful tool of discipleship and growth for churches today. It’s worth the effort to improve small groups to the point that they are advancing your mission. God can use small groups to transform people into his image, and spread His greatness in your community.