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 problems (or disasters).

Summary: Guidelines to prevent common small group problems (or disasters).

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Prevent Small Group Disasters

Guidelines to Prevent Two Major Problems

Doug Britton, MFT

Small group leader watches animated group member and wonders if he is about to see a disaster.

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. (Galatians 6:1)

Small groups face potential dangers

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 work out great, with group members ministering to, encouraging and praying for one another. Other churches, however, have bad experiences.

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

Some common reasons for small group disasters or major problems:

  • 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).


You can prevent many problems by taking two steps

1. Church leaders and group leaders work together.

Keep people from developing an independent attitude by making sure groups are closely connected to the larger church body. Be sure that:

  • Ministry supervisors (people who supervise group leaders) work closely with the pastor.
  • Ministry supervisors meet frequently with group leaders, formally or informally.
  • Ministry supervisors visit each group periodically.
  • 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. 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.

Related: Evaluate your small group leadership skills

If a conversation goes off track, it’s the leader’s job to step in and redirect it. If someone is disruptive, the leader should gently redirect the conversation.

If a disruptive or angry person continues to cause 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.

If you are a leader, don’t think you are being rude if you correct someone. As Paul wrote, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual 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.

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

How to Lead a Christ-Centered Small Group

Growing as a leader, solving common problems

First Things First

Learning about God's nature, becoming a disciple

Who Do You Think You Are?

Enjoying God's love and discovering your purpose in life

In the Bookstore

First Things First


Understanding God’s nature

Who Do You Think You Are?


See yourself as God sees you

Copyright © 2001, 2016 Doug Britton. (Permission granted to print for personal use.)

Unless otherwise noted, all Bible verses are from the 1984 New International Version.

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