Euthanizing Small Groups

Pastor Brian Jones tells of the response he got from one ‘nationally recognized’ pastor when Brian told him that he hadn’t figured out the whole small group thing yet.  Brian said the pastor’s response was something like this:

“Well, Brian, that’s because they don’t work. Small groups are things that trick us into believing we are serious about making disciples. The problem is 90 percent of small groups never produce one single disciple. Ever. They help Christians make shallow friendships, for sure. They’re great at helping Christians feel a tenuous connection to their local church, and they do a bang-up job of teaching Christians how to act like other Christians in the Evangelical Christian subculture. But when it comes to creating the kind of holistic disciples Jesus envisioned, the jury’s decision came back a long time ago that small groups just aren’t working.”

Wow.  My experience in the church is that, many times, small groups DO NOT work.  But sometimes they do.

But, that said, even when they do, this person is right, they many times take an inward rather than outward track.

What do YOU think?  How do you make your small group make a difference?  How do you make your small group be in the top 10% that actually create disciples (what we’re all hoping to do!)

In full disclosure, we’re hosting a new small group.


You can read more of Brian Jones’ story here…


  • cindy February 11, 2011 Reply

    Todd,having participated in and led many, many small groups, I’ve sworn off of them. I agree that, “They’re great at helping Christians feel a tenuous connection to their local church, and they do a bang-up job of teaching Christians how to act like other Christians in the Evangelical Christian subculture.”

    I think that pastors like them often times because they provide numbers to “prove” their effectiveness in a church. But as for real change- I haven’t seen it.

  • Mark Doebler January 28, 2013 Reply

    I’m a pastor…we just pulled the plug on ours. They have had limited success, but it’s an administrative nightmare. We have decided that we would rather have lots of “organic” small groups…2+ people or more…it doesn’t matter…that decide that they want to grow together. We don’t have to manage that, and is likely to be far more conducive to personal growth. We are beginning to encourage spiritual entrepreneurship. We preach the priesthood of the believers…we’re actually going to live it and allow it….I know…it’s radical.

    • PastorShane January 28, 2013 Reply

      I came to exactly the same conclusion…..

  • pietrosquared January 28, 2013 Reply

    I think that the way they are almost always done does, indeed, not work for discipleship. But it often works for connection.

    I think Neil Cole-style small groups of 3 might be the ticket.

  • Steve Miller January 28, 2013 Reply

    Saying small groups don’t work is like saying, “Well I drove a car once and it didn’t run well, so all cars are junk.” Some cars run well, some card don’t; and sometimes perfectly fine cars are driven poorly by an unskilled operator. You can’t make a blanket statement about the effectiveness of all small groups any more then you could make a blanket statement about all automobiles.

    Small Groups are only as good as their leaders. Poor leadership will result in a lackluster small group experience. I’ve been involved with small groups for over twenty years and I’ve seen good ones and bad ones, but the deciding factor is most often the spiritual maturity of the leader. Poor leaders misunderstand the purpose and process of small groups and create an unproductive environment for spiritual growth. They focus on making people comfortable more than assisting people in their quest to be more mature and more holy. If you have an ineffective or untrained leader and then give them a group of immature church folk who don’t understand the Gospel and/or the sanctification process you are just creating a mess; it is like removing the teacher from a third grade classroom and expecting the kids to teach themselves.

    I have read a half a dozen small group leadership manuals, and the most consistent mistake I see is often leaders are instructed to be facilitators rather than to lead. Facilitators believe a group was successful as long as people talked; true spiritual leaders use the small group experience to “do church” on a small scale, they understand they are involved in the important Kingdom Work of making disciples. Next time you are in a poor small group experience, take a moment and ask the leader where he is driving the group and where is the destination? If he/she has no clue don’t go along for the ride, they are just burning gas and driving pointlessly with no objective or ultimate destination in sight.

    • Steve Miller January 28, 2013 Reply

      Some cars run well, some card don’t; and sometimes perfectly fine

      should read

      Some cars run well, some cars don’t; and sometimes perfectly fine…

  • janiskw January 28, 2013 Reply

    It’s kind of funny because we are going BACK to small groups. We are finding that we have many many community contacts. Four of us sat down to pray for our community and easily named 300 people spontaneously (without a list) that we have personal contact with, that do not know Christ. 99% of them will not darken the door of our church building, but WILL come into a home for a study.
    So, maybe what we traditionally know as Bible studies for settled Christians doesn’t work, but for developing contacts in the community does.

  • RA Moody January 29, 2013 Reply

    “Making disciples” isn’t the only reason to have small groups.
    Where do people connect with other members, if not in small groups? It’s not happening on Sunday morning. And “pastoral care” is a joke in many churches around our nation. (traveling with 2 different international Christian recording groups, I have been in more churches than I can count, lol)
    If we do away with small groups, I would like to know how “spectator church” makes disciples?
    I see talented singers, musicians, teachers, etc… occupying seats on Sundays at many churchs around the country, because they are “enjoying the Sunday morning show”… at least small groups give some of these an outlet to connect with others and use/develop some of the gifts God intented for them to use.
    IF it gets our folks talking about and reading the word.. it’s a good thing!
    Small groups, well place in neighborhoods across our cities, CAN make an impact on our cities if we focus on growing ourselves as Christians and intentionally working to draw in those in our communities that may not darken the doors of our “buildings” but, will come next door for a conversation.

  • Kathy Widenhouse January 29, 2013 Reply

    The most successful small groups I’ve been a part of are those in which the leader(s) “pastored” the group. That is, they were mature Christ-followers who understood their role and were regularly coached by staff to not only lead effective teaching but also care for those in the group in the place of one of the staff pastors (especially when the church is too large for pastors to have that kind of hands-on with congregation members.) They considered their job to create an environment of acceptance and learning and growth. When this happens, then the small group can thrive. Discerning good leaders and investing in leadership is key. That’s the small model of the first century church, too.

  • God Willing January 29, 2013 Reply

    Yea, small groups don’t work! Wait, isn’t that closer to the early church model. I’m sure Lydia’s church did things the way we do it…Wait, didn’t they meet in her home? Maybe were simply not doing it correctly? Maybe it’s not the model, maybe it’s the way the model is being carried out. I was part of house church years ago that look a lot like a small group. Over time we had to branch out as we could no longer fit people in the room. It was a very effective church. Everyone did know each other, and prayed for each other, and we felt comfortable inviting people. Maybe we have to communicate more effectively the purposes of small groups? Thoughts?

  • rocknrollperfesser January 29, 2013 Reply

    I lead a small group in my home every Monday night (started with 2 in November and grew to a dozen with a month) and I agree with several of the statements already made.

    I also agree it’s time euthanize small groups (as done in the past quarter century). The problem is a modern church’s affection for systematic over symbiotic relationships, organization over organism and a leader who is more of a “sage” than a “guide.”

    The key is to abandon “small” and embrace groups, groups of ANY size to disciple people. Some groups last seconds (for example after worship in the foyer when a few gather and hold a spiritual conversation), some last minutes, hours, weeks, months and, yes, even years. Every time 2-3 gather “in Jesus’ name” there is spiritual community and discipleship. They happen at church, in homes, at school, on the web, at work, or anywhere outdoors.

    The problem for many/most churches is such situations cannot be measured. We can’t count unorganized, spontaneous community like we could a traditional small group. And that bugs a lot of leaders who rely on body counts to make them feel good about their church and its efficacy.

    One final note: my “life” group has NO real study or agenda. We meet from 7-8:30 p.m. and spend the first half hour in “share and prayer.” The last hour is open Q&A about Scripture, religion, faith, etc. If nothing else we will start by talking about the pastor’s sermon. Last night’s small group spent most of the time dissecting Ephesians 5:5 and what it means (I’ll let you look it up) and then toward the end, we had a question about Mormonism, then freemasonry and away we went. The group was lively and learning from each other’s stories. My job was to simply keep comments from entering heresy or speculation. Occasionally, I’d supply deeper information.

    Will this work everywhere? I don’t know. But it works here in Boise and in my context.

  • Pete January 29, 2013 Reply

    I have led SBs for 25 yrs, each one lasting 5 or so yrs. Most of them male only. I think they are quite necessary for growth. The current group is 8 men, with 5-6 showing up every weekend. We spend 45 mins. in study (Bible or good books) and 45 in sharing and prayer requests, always closing in prayer. I have seen great growth over 5 yrs. in most of the men. I highly recommend group study of Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” to understand how a small group does just that. The name of our group is Life Together and that’s what we do.

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