3 Reasons Your Old School Small Group Model Is Failing

3 Reasons Your Old School Small Group Model Is Failing

Before we even get to the reasons, it makes sense for us to define success. And clearly my definition might not be yours, and that’s okay. As long as your small group ministry model is accomplishing your definition of success.

For now, here’s my definition of success:

We’re steadily moving toward more than 100% of our average adult weekend worship attendance connected in a group, where life-change is happening and better disciples are being made, led by a leader who is on the development track from host/facilitator to leader/shepherd.

What do you think about that definition of success?

Awful? Not bad? Could be improved? Spot on?

For today, that’s my definition.

But before we get to the reasons your old school small group model is failing, let me quickly list three symptoms that point to failure:

You’ve been plateaued at 25 to 35% of your average adult weekend worship attendance foreva

You see it. Right? If you’re stuck or plateaued it is an indication there is something wrong with your model. Remember, “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.” Andy Stanley.

You’re always struggling to replace the leaders who are taking a break or moving away,

Right? You can’t get ahead because instead of adding more new groups you’re barely able to stay even.

Even though your percentage connected is low, there isn’t a waiting list of people desperately trying to join a group.

Think about it. If you’ve already met the demand for group membership, that’s either an indication that you’ve already succeeded (see definition above) or it’s an indication that your design isn’t working to help whet your congregation’s appetite to connect and grow.


Now, let’s talk about why your old school small group model might be failing, especially when you’re using a definition of success like mine.

3 Reasons Your Old School Small Group Model Is Failing

Group membership is painted as a nice extra.

Clearly a leading reason in many churches. In churches where the small group model is succeeding, small group membership is absolutely an essential ingredient for everyone (including senior pastors and leadership).

See also, Essential Ingredients for Life-Change and Groups of All Kinds and the Essential Ingredients of Life-Change.

The menu of connecting and growing opportunities is all-you-can-eat and unlimited.

When small group participation is described as “one of the ways you can get connected” or “one of the ways you can grow in your faith,” alongside several other options (i.e., Adult Sunday School or Bible Fellowship, Discipleship Pathway, Precepts Bible Study, etc.), success is next to impossible.

Not only is success impossible, it almost always leads to a redefinition of success. Right? Instead of my definition above you end up calling success something that is attainable, even though you know it clouds the issue and doesn’t produce the same results.

See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.

Leadership requirements too severely limit who can lead.

While it is important to have requirements, certain requirements restrict potential leaders too severely. For example, if you have to already be in a group to be invited to lead a group, you’re likely excluding the bulk of your best candidates (who are currently unconnected).

Or consider this: If you have to already be a member to lead a group, doesn’t that limit who can begin to lead? Why not take advantage of strategies that make it easier to take a first step into leadership and nearly automatic that development leads to the leader qualities you desire?

See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Entry Requirements Ensure Safety in the Flock and FAQ: What If a New “Leader” Doesn’t Meet Leadership Standards?

How does your small group ministry stack up?

Have you spotted a reason that explains your plateau? Or is there another reason? One of the most important things I can tell you is that the right definition of success will help you identify the strategic design elements that will get you to your preferred future.

The right definition of success will help you spot old school design that never led to where you’d like to go. You still need the courage to make the changes you need, but you’ll be able to see where you need to go.

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