Small Groups and Exasperated Leaders


Small Groups: A Refreshing Approach for Exasperated Leaders is the title for a presentation at the Tulsa Workshop, Saturday March 21 at 2:00. Audio will be added soon. Many of the ideas expressed here came from a survey conducted in February 2015 of small group leaders across the country. Some specific survey results are listed at the end of this post. Also I asked for book suggestions for small group leaders and those are listed at the end of this post as well.  ~JD


If you are discouraged with your small group ministry, remember:

*There are no perfect small groups.

*There is no one way to do small groups.

*There is no guarantee that this is going to engulf your church in a perfect storm of fellowship and evangelism.

*Everybody in your church will not embrace small groups.

*The breakthrough you’re hoping for is both spectacular and short-lived.

Other than that, small groups are awesome!

Why Do Small Groups Exasperate Leaders?

According to those who took my survey, a majority of respondents are exasperated because group members do not attend consistently. Other areas of frustration are the number of non-participants in the church and the lack of evangelistic effort within the groups. Other sources of frustration given were:

*Senior Leadership that does not promote or encourage groups

*Leadership that attempts to micromanage groups

*It’s hard to find Substitute leaders

*Childcare is a difficult problem to solve

*Best scheduling for participation

*Unwillingness of group members to birth new groups

*Finding willing hosts

All small groups will face some of those problems. 

– One Dozen Ways to Overcome Exasperation In Small Group Ministry –

1. Prayer, meditation, and time in the Word. It’s hard to lead a group into spiritual life if we do not have it ourselves. In her book Soul-Shaping Small Groups, Kim Engelmann suggests that this should be the major component of our group meetings.

Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints. ~Ephesians 6:18

2. Spend Time With Other Ministry Leaders. There is value to talking with another, more experienced leader.

Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another. ~Proverbs 27:17

3. Realize that God has the people here that need to be here.  This is God’s ministry to those in need, not mine. This gives me time to give extra attention to those who need it. Don’t be addicted to the success story, be addicted to the ministry story.

The household of Stephanas … “have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints…” ~1 Corinthians 16:15 (KJV)

4. Talk with the group about consistency – it’s possible that they haven’t really considered how important each one of them is. To hear from someone who is is a friend about how important the meetings are can make an impact.

And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near. ~ Hebrews 10:24-25

5. Explore Social Connections.  If you have opportunity, spend some time with group members one on one. The basis of small group ministry is relationships – and the connections we have are very powerful. Loving one another is key.

Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved. ~ Acts 2:46-47

6. Persevere!  All ministry efforts require a moderate (and sometimes extreme) amount of perseverance.

…We rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. ~Romans 5:3-4

7. Take a Break. The Sabbath Principle is often not practiced by Small Group Leaders. It’s hard to find someone to take your place. A break could take different forms: A break from the meeting one night a month.  A break from the usual setting – meet somewhere different. Ideally you should be able to be a regular Small Group member for a season.

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. ~Matthew 11:28-29

8. Consider the Needs Being Met.  What you are doing is vitally important – more so to some individuals. What spiritual maturity has been enhanced because of your work? In what ways has the group grown in effectiveness and strength under your leadership. Your small group provides a place for those who may feel like ‘outsiders’.

And we exhort you, brothers: warn those who are irresponsible, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. ~1 Thessalonians 5:14

9. Self-Care.  If you burn out in your ministry efforts, more people will be hurt than helped. Resist the temptation to do too much. Exercise, take care of yourself, let the group go for a bit if you need to. Refresh and Feed yourself … in order to encourage others.

10. Move beyond the group into everyday life.  Service projects, mission trips, attending conferences together. Break up the routine.

11. Remember that the seeds you are planting today God will produce fruit for many years to come.  Sometimes it takes years to see the result. Over time the impact of your group will be immeasurable.

12. Realize that it’s OK to be frustrated. Do you know WHY you are frustrated? The group has purpose and needs, and those do not come easy. The group is not about you, it’s about helping each other follow Christ more closely.

Conclusion:  Remember that Jesus’ small group was probably just as frustrating!

– Survey Results –

Small Group Leaders from Across the U.S. took a survey in February 2015. Survey Results:

84 Small Group Leaders Took Survey.  40% have been leading a group less than 4 years. 60% over 4 years.

What is the Typical Content of Your Group Studies?

* 29% Books designed for Small Groups

*30% The Bible

*27% Sermon-Based Groups

What is the Number One Frustration You Have as a Small Group Leader?

39% Group Members that Do not attend consistently

18% The number of non-participants in church

17% Lack of evangelistic effort in group

Priority of Prayer in Group Meetings?

*30% Very High – prayer takes a significant portion of meeting

*49% Medium – pray together a few times during meeting, mentioning specific needs

*15% Low – not a major component of meetings

This is a combination of two similar questions: When you encounter frustration about your group, can you briefly name one or two things that refocus your energies? / What would you say to small group leaders who are tired and frustrated with their duties? There were 59 Responses, these are the top three:

27 said: Take a break – sometimes we do things for a season. Maybe even ask someone to take the lead one night a month. / enjoy being a group member for a season. / No group should be dependent on just one leader. / Smaller churches often struggle with this./ do less so someone else can step up / Recruit others to lead.

25 said: Prayer / meditation / time in the Word / ask God if he has really called you to this ministry? / pray for each member by name

15 said:  Talking with another, more experienced leader. / discussing with co-leaders. / Encouragement from other leaders. Doing things on my self-care plan. / let’s struggle together and encourage one another. / spend time with someone who can mentor you in this area.

These and other responses were used throughout this presentation.

– Book Recommendations – 

One more question: If you could pick one book about small groups to give to all group leaders, what would it be? Here are some of the suggestions that related to small group ministry, with some additional selections as well:




Thanks for reading and especially if you gave me the honor of spending time in my session. I am grateful. JD

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