The Do’s and Don’ts of Small Groups (Full Version)

My readers provided some very positive feedback about my previous series “The Do’s and Don’ts of Small Groups” so here are all five blog entries in one, single location. 


The Do’s and Don’ts of Small Groups:

DON’T: Share everybody’s personal information. When I friend you on Facebook, it doesn’t mean I want to buy Pampered Chef from you, sell Mary Kay, or join your online business. And I really don’t want your friends to contact me either for a presentation, 15 minute video, or to fill out a survey. You have probably experienced this. The absolute worst thing ever is for someone to feel like a pastor/leader/church attender is interested in their life and friendship, only to find out that person just wants to get that person to donate/volunteer/buy or whatever. The people we run across in life are not commodities to be bought or sold. Don’t be guilty of this. And avoid leaders like this.

DO: Utilize technology & social media. Take advantage of social media to increase discussion and deepen relationships among group members. Your groups will stay on top of current events and get to know each other to a greater degree. You’ll make it easier for new faces to get acquainted and folks will be less likely to fall through the cracks when they’re connected to someone, or everyone.



The Do’s and Don’ts of Small Groups: Don’t base your small group on spiritual information, but rather transformation.

DON’T: Base a small group solely on a teaching topic or resource. When I was in High School, I got in trouble more often in boring lectures than I did with more interactive environments. The topic was irrelevant: if the teacher kept our attention and included us in the discussion, I performed well. If the teacher just talked and lurked between their desk and the chalkboard, I didn’t always show up. Yes, some will argue that a good student would have gone to class anyways and all that. The reality is that I didn’t. Don’t create a small group that feels like a less engaging version of your church service. If you base everything on teaching, you don’t get the relationships and you will build a culture where people think about topics and talk about what should be done. Don’t build your small groups around a DVD series or a book study. That’s an elective, not a community of Disciple-Makers.

DO: Invest heavily on relationships and build a culture of purpose. The best small groups are interactive and built on a greater purpose than a teaching topic. We get that purpose from Jesus who commanded His followers to “Make disciples” everywhere. The majority of positive feedback I get from leaders has more to do with relationships and serving than it does lesson plans and lectures. Like that young married group that punted their scheduled topic to listen to and pray with someone who announced they had separated from their spouse. Like that singles group who embraced a young homeless guy, included him in everything and took him everywhere, and saw him become a follower of Jesus and change his entire lifestyle. And that “older” group that cancelled a percentage of their regular Bible study to serve at a homeless shelter together. Each of these groups saw new groups created within that year.

Not convinced? Look at churches that are focused on what happens outside the church walls opposed to those focused mostly on Sunday morning. Churches with an outward focus are channeling their energy on making disciples that will make disciples in their neighborhoods, make disciples in their families, make disciples at work, and make disciples wherever else they find themselves. Churches with an inward focus spend their energy trying to get people on the church campus. Get them here so they can hear the teaching. Get them here so they can see our guest speaker. Get them here so they can hear our music. Get them here so they can see our building. Just get them here.

What about you? What are your best stories from your experience in a small groups of believers? Are they about a topic or video, or about seeing something greater than that?


The Do’s and Don’ts of Small Groups:

DON’T: Micromanage your small group attendees. If you’ve ever said “We want life changing discussion to take place, and I’m glad tonight was the night you understood God wanted you to deal with some things, but we’re on a schedule and snack time just started” then you’re doing it wrong.

Every week is not a colossal battle between the forces of evil and you. Don’t shut people down because they’re asking the wrong questions, and don’t shut people up because their tearful confession might cause the group to end before the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory. Don’t “control” your small group; just lead the way. I’ll never forget the time a young couple asked about a chance to contribute and were shut down dismissively in mid-sentence by the group leaders. That couple never went to that group again, but became excellent leaders and helped me launch a couple of new groups. The original group ceased to exist shortly after that episode.

DO: Align with your church’s vision to make disciples whenever you meet. Each time your group meets, articulate the purpose of your group and set the focus for your time. Don’t make this a big production: you don’t have to make a PowerPoint presentation and hand out discussion guides on the church vision every week. Simply reveal the purpose in everything you; if your purpose is to make disciples, keep doing that. Choose wisely when to redirect discussion to stay on topic, and when to simply let folks share and ask questions together. If your group is about making disciples, engaging culture, and loving people, then redirect to those things whenever it seems natural to do so. If you feel like the group you lead lacks focus, lead the way. Leadership matters!

chapelThe Do’s and Don’ts of Small Groups:

DON’T: Make your small group into its own church. Your small group is the front line of your church disciple making strategy; it is not a separate entity. If you really believe your church is on the wrong track unless you do certain things against the church’s wishes through your small group, then answer a few questions. First, are you sure you’re even right? Be careful here; we want to glorify God, not use the opportunities He gives us to feed our ego. Second, have you spoken to the church leadership about what you’re doing? You may be exactly what they are hoping for! Next, is your church REALLY missing the mark? If things are truly so bad that if you do what is required you’ll be doing the wrong thing, then you probably need to exit this organization. Why stay? You need to hold the church leadership up and tell your family “these are our leaders.” If you can’t do that, the battle isn’t how to lead a small group, but rather where God can use you for His purposes. Finally, be humble. Your ideas may be the best thing since Texas invented Barbecue, but if you’re going against the wishes of those in charge, you’re not building up your team and you’ll only end up miserable. Chances are, if you’re an innovator, someone will want to unleash your talents anyways so don’t force your ideas where they aren’t sought.

DO: Make Disciples. Engage Culture. Love People. No matter what curriculum you choose or is chosen for you, believers everywhere are free in Christ to make disciples. We speak words of truth, we live with love because of truth, and we connect with those God places around us to display the truth. It doesn’t matter if you attend a church with 10,000 people or 50. You can lead your group to honor Christ and bless others no matter what your church affiliation, geography, or language.


My son loved seeing his picture on the way to the preschool check-in station.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Small Groups:

DON’T: Assume childcare is no big deal. The absolute dumbest thing you can do is claim small groups (or any other meeting for that matter) are essential and vital to your mission, and follow up with the phrase “childcare will not be provided.” Childcare is a really big deal. As is a consistent bedtime for kids. And dinner plans. And parent-child schedule fatigue. Parents are busy. They’re driving all over town for sports, school, lessons, shopping, work, and a bunch of other stuff. And they’re spending a ton of money. Making a commitment to a small group for parents involves an incredible level of effort, commitment, and cost. Understand that a parent wants the very best for their kids, and at first look, being away at a small group meeting might not look like what is best for the kids. Don’t judge, just understand. If something is vital to your church, you need to figure out childcare. Don’t come up with a wimpy solution; treat it as if it is the biggest part of what you’re doing. Assume childcare is no big deal and I’ll assume you’ve having limited success growing and launching new groups… and creating space for lots of young families.

DO: Offer GREAT options for parents with small children. First off, if your church is in a building with meeting space, consider small groups on site on Sunday mornings and during the week on a night where a ministry to children already exists. That familiarity and ease of use will help parents connect in a group with less stress and difficulty. If you have no quality on-site meeting space, there are still options. First, designate a consistent on-site option for parents to take advantage of a ministry to children, so they may drop their kids off, attend a small group, and then pick up afterwards. You will probably need to extend the hours to meet the need. You may even need to pay for Children’s Ministry workers. This is a priceless budget item. Most churches wouldn’t think twice about spending a few thousand dollars on equipment or props for the Sunday service, or sending checks to local missions agencies and foreign relief workers. How much is a ministry worth that invests in children, connects parents into your disciple making process, and frees people up for relationships that encourage spiritual growth?

On the money issue, I’m not done. Many churches offer voucher care for parents that have to hire a sitter to participate in church activities. The parents fill out a form, list the date, number of kids, and amount of hours (generally a four hour max) and the church cuts a check to partially or fully offset the costs. Helping parents is worth it. Cut something else if you’re not making children’s workers a budget priority. Cut everyone’s budget by a percentage if you have to. You have to get this one right. Ask the churches with all those kids and young families growing in discipleship and inviting their friends if you don’t believe me.

OK sorry, that last sentence sounded mean.

Finally, some groups will be creative when no other solutions exist. They pitch in a few bucks per family to offset two sitters, or rotate couples to spend time with kids for that week. Sometimes there are extreme situations like a small group with 10 kids. It isn’t easy. Could be time to launch a new group. Some families will give up in this situation, because it makes them feel like a burden, or because it is such a difficult task to make being in the group possible. That’s why GREAT options are so important.

“The Great Commission” (also known as Disciple-Making) is the command Jesus laid out for His followers. We are to “Make Disciples” of all nations. We are to “Make Disciples” of all people, everywhere. He didn’t create two distinct categories of “Evangelism” and “Discipleship” that we see today (my guess is that was invented so someone could sell two books instead of one).

Just like Jesus, Christians for centuries have utilized small groups of believers as a practical way to provide support, encouragement, growth, and fellowship with one another as we make disciples together. Small groups in a contemporary church environment are just as effective in “Disciple-Making” today, but simply putting people in a group and having a staff member tell them what to do doesn’t make disciples. I believe that an effective small groups ministry is one that consistently makes disciples, engages the culture they find themselves in, and loves people. So this week, I give you five days of “The Do’s and Don’ts of Small Groups.”

Full Series: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5

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