Small group life-cycle:  Starting over


Stage 3 in a small group life cycle involves starting over, either by multiplying your group or by renewing your commitment.  Every group will reach the point where you are thankful for the great times of the past, but now you are ready for something new.  Be mindful that some people will never be ready for a change, even if the group has become stale, so they will need reassurance through this process.


Two ways to start over:



Typical duration - 6-8 weeks, with 3-6 months preparation.

Group Focus - mission and relationships.


Multiplication is the hardest thing your group will do, but it is one of the most important.  Churches worldwide are growing - some explosively - using small groups as a key outreach tool.  There is always room for more!  Every time you add a group, God can bless 20 more people. 



Once a group grows beyond about 10 adult members it becomes less effective.  This is because every member wants and needs an opportunity to be heard, and that becomes increasingly difficult as the group gets larger.  That does not mean that a group of 12 to 15 is not effective; it just will not be as effective as a group of the ideal size (6 to 10). 


The primary consideration will probably be the size of the host's house and its ability to accommodate larger groups of people (and children).  Most homes are at their maximum when the group reaches 20 people.  When your group reaches this number, you should already have your multiplication plan in action.


It is your job - and this may be your toughest sell as a leader - to instill a desire for and commitment to growth within your group.  Here are some suggestions for how you might do this:


PRAY FOR GROWTH, both privately and in group meetings.


INSPIRE GROUP MEMBERS to join Jesus' work of building His Kingdom.  Growth is not a goal because it makes the leader or the group or the congregation feel successful (although few experiences are more satisfying than leading a thriving group).  We want every group to grow because we want more people to experience the joy of loving Jesus!  Once a new person joins a group, it only takes a few months for him/her to form spiritual friendships and start contributing. 


PREPARE GROUP MEMBERS to multiply.  Multiplication is a wonderful, exciting event, but a birth (like any change) also brings pain and loss.

1. Tell them that no one will be forced to leave the group.  Then stand behind that promise.  Most of the mistakes in multiplications take place because a leader disregards a member's wishes.

2. Emphasize that the two groups can enjoy occasional combined activities.

3. Remind them that a relationship is not doomed because two people are no longer in the same group.  Be honest - some relationships will change after multiplication, but you can maintain friendships outside the group setting.

4. Help them to see the gains at the other end - personal gains and kingdom gains.  New members means new opportunities for NEW FRIENDS and NEW FAITH!

5. If your group is mature enough, impress upon them that the group is not about them; it is about GOD'S KINGDOM and its progress, both numerically and spiritually.  Yes, relationships are important, but the Kingdom's growth is more important.


Idea:  Use sub-grouping for several weeks before multiplying and allow the new leaders (your apprentice, the new host, etc.) to lead part of each week's lesson with future group members.

Idea 2:  Ask members to pray for several weeks about what God would have them do.  When decision day comes, pass out blank cards.  Ask members to write their names and either "yes" or "no" about helping start a new group.  Collect cards, introduce those who said "yes" and affirm all.  Or go around the circle and have everyone share where they want to go & why.

Idea 3: If most of the members of your group are opposed to multiplying, go to God asking for wisdom and talk it over with your coach and apprentice.  You could appoint your apprentice as the leader of your group, and then you move on to start a new group.

Idea 4: Tell the group that your apprentice is going to start a new group, and to begin praying.  Talk through possibilities of who fits in which group.  Have the new leader invite people to join him in his new adventure.  That helps people feel hand-picked rather than discarded.


IN YOUR FIRST MEETING (or in a "let's make a new start" meeting that can occur anytime in the life of your group), establish a new covenant that addresses growth of the group.  Set specific goals about how many new members your group wants to have by a certain time or date. 


DECIDE WHAT KIND OF MULTIPLICATION IS BEST.  There are several ways to launch a new group.  Churches have seen all of the following succeed:

            50-50 multiplication.  Half with the leader, half with the apprentice.

            Clustering - two groups come together to form three.  A new leader takes 1-2 households from each group, and all three groups feel successful and have room for more people.

            Leader shift - when the apprentice takes over the current group, and the leader launches out to begin a group from scratch.

            Turbo group - 4-6 leaders meet as a temporary group.  After a period of training, encouragement and prayer, the turbo group dissolves and each member starts a new group.


BUILD A NEW LEADERSHIP TEAM.  Choose an apprentice and begin to develop him to become a leader long before it is time to multiply.  Observe your group to determine spiritual giftedness that could translate into an effective apprentice leader.


EQUIP THE NEW GROUP TO MAKE DECISIONS with the help of your coach.  They need to discuss the issues that will become part of their first covenant (childcare, meeting time and site, etc.). It may be painful for you to see your "kids" making decisions that differ from what you have done, but remember it is healthy for them to develop their own dreams.  Encourage their creativity, because they may have some ideas you can learn from!



Use natural friendship patterns to help you.  For example, couples with kids & couples without kids are two logical groups.  Or geography might work.  Start with each leader selecting the person he feels closest to, then add in others who blend in well.


Make every effort to give both groups a strong core leadership.  If there are problem people, send them all away with your apprentice so you can have a decent group (Not!).  Actually, you should give the baby group the stronger members, but be sure both groups are left with a solid core.


BEGIN A 5-WEEK PREPARATION TIME before the new group is birthed.


CELEBRATE THE NEW GROUP by having a "baby shower" for them.  Bring gifts (coffee maker, cups, name tags, etc.) that are needed for a new group.  Continue to socialize together.


KEEP 'CASTING THE VISION' of developing leaders to start additional groups.  Some groups have a goal of multiplying every year, and they done it.


Typical duration - 4-6 weeks, with evaluation a short time later.
Group Focus - mission.

Your group has been meeting for awhile.  You have grown to a comfortable size (8-12 adults) and everyone is getting along, but something does not seem right.  Lately, members are less enthused and more likely to arrive late or skip altogether.  The group seems stale.  What do you do?

Look in the mirror.  Ask yourself some important questions and give honest answers.

a. How is your faith?
Is there on-going sin in your life?  Are you growing closer to God and deeper in your faith?  Are you praying for the group and for each member?  If there is a spiritual problem with the leader, the whole group will be ineffective. 

This may be a good time for a heart-to-heart with God.  And maybe a good time to seek the help of friends or church leaders.  You may need to give up leadership while you "get your own house in order," or you could be more motivated to face your weakness because of leading the group (II Corinthians 4).  Ask a trusted, godly friend for wisdom.

b. What are your priorities?
Small group leaders are busy people.  A big reason you are leading is that you are an energetic, motivated, well-connected person.  Busy people can over-commit. 

How much time do you spend preparing for group?  How often are you connecting with group members outside the meeting?  Group health depends on leaders who are putting the group ahead of other interests.

If you see a deficiency in your commitment to the group, some options are to resign (which is okay), bring on a co-leader (which is better), or re-commit (which is best of all).

Listen.  Get input from group members.

Chances are, others are sensing the same lack of excitement in the group.  Ask group members how they are enjoying the group and what might make it even better.  Some of the best people to ask are the ones who recently dropped out or who are less involved than they used to be.

Group members may be reluctant to give a straight answer if they think it will hurt your feelings or if they think you are trying to manipulate.  Give lots of permission to be honest.  One way to invite openness is to be a little self-critical in the way you ask the question... 

"It seems like our group is not as enthused as we used to be.  Are you feeling any of that?"

"I wish we could get more people involved in discussion.  Do you have any ideas that might help us?"

"Why do you think we never have visitors in our group?"

One great outcome from asking people for their insights is that you might discover someone with gifts to be a future leader!

 Invite the group to re-commit.

a. Cast a vision.
Talk honestly about what you would like to see happening in the group.  Give them a vision for what the group could be.  This is the time to exercise leadership.  Be assertive, positive, and future-oriented.

Don't whine or lecture:  "You guys are uncommitted.  I am tired of doing everything myself.  I may just decide to skip some night like the rest of you do."

Do invite them to be part of the solution:  "I want our group to be fun, encouraging, and exciting.  I want us to be an example for other groups.  What if we became known as the group who..."

b. Give the group an opportunity to respond.
They will probably catch your enthusiasm.  They may not adopt every idea you propose, but that is no problem.  The more ideas they bring to the table, the greater their sense of ownership.

Use a covenant to be explicit about expectations.

A covenant is a great tool for group members to clarify what they expect from one another.  Some groups sign it and collect copies.  Other groups sign it & keep a copy.  And others use it as a discussion guide without signing it.  All three approaches can breathe new life into a tired group.

Be sure the covenant addresses growth of the group.  Set specific goals about how many new members your group wants to have by a certain time or date.  Also, be sure to discuss leadership development.  Some groups have a goal of multiplying every year, and they have succeeded.  One group at Alameda multiplied four times in five years.

Add a new wrinkle to the group meeting.

It is amazing how subtle changes can impact a group.  Items to consider:

Start a quarterly or monthly service project.

Change your approach to prayer time (written prayer journal, pray in pairs, etc.)

Change your meeting time.

Re-consider your approach to childcare.

Look for a new special focus for the group (spiritual gifts, evangelism, daily Bible reading, etc.).

Schedule times for group meals or meetings with other groups.