Skill Training | Sub-Grouping for Deeper Connection

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“My group members don’t want to sub-group!”  “We’d really rather stay together.”  “We don’t want to miss out on what anyone says.”

If you’ve heard any of these lines (or said them yourselves), you’re normal.  If you’ve given into the temptation to stay in a circle of 12 (or anything larger than 3 or 4) for your entire meeting…you’re missing out on a key element of life-on-life ministry.  Why?  As tempting as staying together for the whole meeting might be, it fails to take into consideration the reality of the most dominant personalities.  Here’s what I mean:

In any group the most dominant personalities do 80 to 90% of the talking.  I like to say that the 5 most dominant personalities do 90% of the talking.  It’s just a fact of group life.  If you’ve got a group of 8, the 5 most dominant personalities do 90% of the talking.  If you’ve got a group of 12, the 5 most dominant personalities do 90% of the talking.  If you’ve got a group of 16…

What can you do about it?  You’re not really going to change the personalities of the more dominant members of your group.  That kind of change rarely happens.  But you can learn to sub-group for parts of the meeting.  When you take a group of 12 and sub-group into two groups of 6…you change the equation.  Now, each group of 6 is working with its own set of most dominant personalities.

How To Sub-Group

The key is to just do it.  Don’t take a vote.  No one votes to sub-group or split up during the meeting.  It’s too tempting to all be together.  Here’s how to get started with this important practice:

  1. Arrange ahead of time for an additional facilitator (or 2 or 3 depending on how large your group is).
  2. Figure out an easy way to try it the first time (could be, “Guys, we’re going to move into the dining room for questions 5 thru 8.  Gals, you stay here with Susan.”).  Important: Note how directive the instructions are.  Do not ask if the group wants to sub-group.
  3. Next week, repeat step two.
  4. After 2 or 3 sessions the group will grow accustomed to sub-grouping for parts of the meeting.  You’re now ready to switch it up a little.  Consider sub-grouping into groups of 2 or 3 for the prayer time.  This is actually a great step in the direction of establishing accountability partners.  Important: When you move in this direction it’s always a good practice to sub-group men with men and women with women. The intimacy established is very powerful and will often lead to problems if you aren’t careful.
  5. When your group is used to sub-grouping, you might want to begin grouping more strategically.  If you’re considering birthing a new group, this is an opportunity to establish a more defined sense of community between members who may go with the new group.

Remember, the key is to just do it.  No one will be glad immediately.  Everyone will see the benefit after they’ve become accustomed to the practice.

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  1. Ben Reed on April 27, 2010 at 8:13 am

    This is great stuff. I’m thinking through the idea of mid-sized “small” groups, and sub-grouping is an absolute must when you get a group that has more than 20 people. I like the idea of establishing a defined sense of community between members who are launching out into new groups.

    Thanks for consistently posting helpful info. You’re a great resource for our ministry at Grace.

  2. Josh Hunt on April 27, 2010 at 9:20 am

    If the space allows it, you can sometimes subgroup by setting up the chairs that way in the room ahead of time. If you had a large room, set up folding chairs in groups of 3 or 4 facing each other. People will rarely move the chairs. they will just fit themselves into the groups that the chairs provide.

    Josh Hunt
    Helping Groups Double

  3. Mark Howell on April 27, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Thanks for jumping in Ben! I’ve had groups as large as 25 to 30 that sub-grouped during the session and everyone felt very connected. The key, I’ve found, is to keep the sub-group size in the 6 to 8 neighborhood.

    I really appreciate the feedback!


  4. Mark Howell on April 27, 2010 at 10:16 am

    I like it! Thanks Josh! Great idea.


  5. Jim Meldrim on April 28, 2010 at 7:48 am


    Great article…one of the great benefits of sub-grouping is that it allows for new leadership to emerge. A leader can intentionally raise up new potential leaders simply by having them facilitate portions of the group time. We have a men’s group meeting at a restaurant that now has 4 sub-groups (each with a leader). I love this approach to group growth as it is bridge to have groups “split”. How about a future article on how you can lead sub-groups to eventually start new groups that can again subgroup?

  6. Mark Howell on April 28, 2010 at 8:26 am

    Thanks for jumping in Jim! Love what’s going on in your men’s meeting! I really do believe that sub-grouping can be a great precursor to “birthing.” Thanks for the suggestion on an article with a “how to” establish a sub-group, birth, and repeat strategy! That’ll help!