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Prevent Small Group Problems

Two steps to help you prevent small group disasters

Doug Britton, MFT

Page Summary
Small group problems: Summary — Small groups have great potential, but they also present challenges, challenges that can destroy a group’s effectiveness unless group leaders take preventive steps. The two common-sense guidelines in this study will show you how to lead a successful small group and prevent common small group problems (or disasters).

Small groups face potential problems

Jesus taught large multitudes, yet he gave special attention to a small group of followers. Many churches have followed his example by setting up small group Bible studies or home fellowship groups. These often have worked out great, with group members ministering to, encouraging and praying for one another. Other churches, however, have experienced many small group problems.

This study is adapted from the book How to Lead a Christ-Centered Small Group.

Three common reasons for small group problems (or disasters):

  • Group discussions can become unfocused and drift into unsound doctrines.
  • Someone with a strong personality may try to take over.
  • Some group members might look at their group as an independent unit and think they don’t need the parent church. If they adopt this attitude, they ignore the Bible’s instructions to obey church leaders (Hebrews 13:17). God gave us a variety of ministries to help us grow (Ephesians 4:11-13) and expects us to honor those who are in charge (1 Timothy 5:17).

Prevent many problems by taking two steps

1. Church leaders and small group leaders work together.

Be sure that:

  • Small groups are closely connected to the larger church body.
  • Ministry supervisors (people who supervise small group leaders) work closely with the pastor.
  • Ministry supervisors meet frequently with small group leaders, formally or informally.
  • Ministry supervisors visit each group periodically.
  • Small group leaders emphasize to their members that they are operating under the leadership of the church and that the group is an extension of the church, not a separate entity.
  • Group leaders encourage members to attend regular church services, not just the group meetings.
  • Group leaders submit attendance reports after each meeting, so church leaders know who is attending.

2. Small group leaders maintain control of their group.

Many group leaders see themselves as facilitators, people who encourage discussion instead of doing all the talking themselves. Although this is usually the most effective way to lead a group, they should not simply be passive participants. They need to realize that they are in charge. They are responsible to be sure the group works well, and they are responsible to deal with small group problems as they come up.

If a conversation goes off track: It’s the leader’s job to step in and redirect the conversation.

If a disruptive or angry person causes problems:

  • The leader may need to meet privately with this person to set  ground rules.
  • The leader may need to gently correct the disruptive person in the group’s presence.
  • The leader may need to ask church authorities for help.
  • In an extreme situation, the group leader or church authorities may need to ask the disruptive person to stop attending the group’s meetings.

Don’t think you are being rude if you gently correct someone. Dealing with problems is part of your role as a small group leader. As Paul wrote, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore him gently.” (Galatians 6:1). As long as you speak courteously, you aren’t being rude. Rather, you are demonstrating love for the disruptive person and the group.

Related: Evaluate your small group leadership skills

Next: Step-by-step meeting plan for small groups

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About Doug Britton, MFT

Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life. (Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)

Copyright © 2020 Doug Britton. Permission granted to print for personal use. (Scripture verses are from the New International Version, copyright © 1984.) See reprint policy.

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