Your Small Group Will Shrink

Small groups at NCC are becoming more popular.  It’s a bit anecdotal, but it seems that this spring a lot of our groups filled up very quickly, leaving me scrambling to find places to help people connect.

Generally what happens is a group gets to 17 or so people and the leader realizes they can’t really fit any more people than that in their living room, much less actually lead them, so they e-mail me and tell me that they have to close their group.  They just can’t take any more people, I’ll need to send them somewhere else.  Hopefully there is somewhere else to send them…

When groups don’t close, they’ll reach 20, 25, even 40 people, and most often one of two things happens: the group multiplies… or it shrinks.

The ideal small group size is probably somewhere in the eight to fourteen range.  Once you get too much bigger than that people begin to feel disconnected, and the leader is stretched too thin.  People don’t tend to stick around

So, problem solved you say?  The group started at 20 but people drifted away and it’s a manageable 12.  Great!

Or maybe not so much.  I guess it would be great if everyone who left got connected somewhere else, either in a small group or just an informal Christ-centered community, but I’m not so sure that’s what actually happens.

I think it probably goes something more like this:

Jenny moves to town and looks for a church.  She finds National Community Church and decides to stick around.  In January they start talking about small groups, saying that they’re a great way to get involved, grow in your faith, and develop friendships, not superficial ones either.  They’re saying you can have real community in these small group things.

So Jenny picks up a copy of the Group Directory and browses through.  She emails James who leads a study on Ephesians.  Hmm, that one’s full.  How about this women’s group led by Jane.  Oh, that one’s full too.  Okay, there’s a book discussion group that Mary leads.  “There’s space in your group?  Great!  I’ll be there Wednesday at 7.”

Jenny picks up a copy of Francis Chan’s Crazy Love at Barnes and Noble and reads the introduction before coming to the group.  She shows up a few minutes early and waits outside, not wanting to seem too eager.

She heads inside just a couple of minutes after 7, and there are already half a dozen people chatting.  She introduces herself, and everyone seems nice.  It looks like they’ve known each other for a while, but they seem genuinely glad she came.

A minute later Tom walks in, and then Tracy comes after him.  Jack and Carol and their kids Tommy and Sarah show up.  And then Jim, or was it Tim?  And Jim or Tim’s wife can’t make it tonight, but she’ll be here next week.

And then a few more people show up who she doesn’t quite get the chance to meet, but it seems like some of them are new.  Jenny is glad she arrived early so at least she could meet people in smaller groups and not walk in to so many total strangers.

It’s time for group to begin so everyone gathers in the living room.  It’s a bit tight.  Some people are sitting on the floor, one’s on the arm of the couch.  Poor Jim/Tim can’t seem to get the host’s black lab to stop licking his face.

Everyone goes around the room and says their name and where they grew up and their favorite color of M&M, which just confuses Jenny.

Mary begins to ask questions about the book, but Jenny has trouble hearing her on the other side of the room.  Jack says something about how God’s love is universal, but Tracy says that she believes in limited atonement.  Another girl chimes in.  What was her name again.  Shoot.

Once the discussion time is over, Mary asks if anyone has any prayer requests.  Someone mentions that their uncle is sick.  Mary says she’s trying to close on a new house… maybe this one will fit all of these people.

After the group people hang around for a few minutes.  Jenny doesn’t really end up talking to anyone, but she overhears Mary and another long-time member discussing how the group is always big at the beginning of a semester but dies down after a few weeks.  New people just don’t seem to stick around.

Jenny decides to come back a couple more times but doesn’t really feel like she’s getting to know anyone.  It seems like some people have those deep relationships she heard about in church, but she doesn’t seem to be finding them.  Ah well, Modern Family is on Wednesday nights, and that’s a pretty funny show.  Might as well stay in.

It’s just a story.  I made it up, but I think it’s an all too common experience.  So what else can be done?  How can we help people get connected and stay connected.  How can we help them develop those meaningful relationships that we talk about in sermons?  Well, stay tuned, more on that later.

Posted at 1:25 PM on April 11th, 2011
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