SMALL GROUPS & A Leadership Exercise To Discover Why People Dislike Them

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 10/29/15.

Most people intuitive understand that accountability and discipleship take place in small, intimate groups (e.g. Jesus’ twelve disciples or Wesley’s band meetings).  And, I have some to believe that small groups are probably the most important of the three tiers in a church (congregation – sub-congregation – small groups).  But, my students and clients often say people in their church resist the idea of small groups?

If you have encountered this situation, let me explain a dynamic that is sometimes the source of this variance in viewpoints regarding the suitability and validity of small groups.  Then I will follow with a short leadership exercise to help you (and your leaders) identify where their reticence comes from,

Where does small group reticence come from?

Often times rejection occurs because people in the church have a preconceived notion of what constitutes a small group, such as a weeknight home fellowship group.  They may have had a bad experience with what they perceive as small groups in the past, if they had been encouraged (they may even feel coerced) into joining one.  You see, they will resist joining a weeknight small group because their small group needs are already being met in the Sunday School “style” of small group. Thus, they have a restricted impression of a small group, as some sort of extra weeknight meeting.  Why would they want this when their small group need are already being met in Sunday School class or elsewhere.

But, as you will notice from my books, a home fellowship group is only one type of small group.  There are hundreds of types of small groups: committees, teams, worship bands, tech crews, leadership teams, etc. etc. etc..  And, most of our churches already have them in Sunday School classes.

A leadership exercise.

  • First, if you encounter initial reticence to the idea of small groups, educate yourself on the history of small groups in the congregation.  See if there isn’t limited view of what constitutes a small group. Take a piece of paper and divide it down the middle.  On the left side, write out the history of small groups in your congregation in bulleted points (no more that a half dozen).
  • Next, in the right column describe how people in the church felt about small groups at each bulleted point. Use a Likert Scale (1 – 5):
    1. = “highly disfavorable,”
    2. = “disfavorable,”
    3. = “no opinion,”
    4. = “favorable” and
    5. = “highly favorable”).

Put at the top:  How were small groups viewed as a result of this stage?

  • Finally, create a plan of four (4) stages to educate the reticent ones (slowly and tactfully) that small groups are (per the definition above) informal conclaves or many, many different varieties.  Also address the times when small groups were increasingly disfavorable.

When congregants realize they are already in a small group and you are not asking them to join another … then they will usually not dismiss them, nor be wary of them.