Nobody really wants to be the person leading the smallest Growth Group in church, but sometimes it happens. In fact, it’s a pretty common experience in ministry to have less people around than you’d like. Jesus warns us that “few” people find the narrow gate and the hard way that leads to life (Matt 7:14), and though many are called, “few” are chosen (Matt 22:14). We always pray with confidence for many people to follow Jesus, but it might be that at this moment, our Growth Group ministry is towards only a few.
So what is a very small group? The definition depends on whether the group is single-sex or mixed. Single-sex groups can cope with the challenges of smallness better than a mixed group. So a very small group would be four to six people for a single-sex group, and five to seven people for a mixed group. Any less than four or five and you’ve probably become a prayer triplet or something other than ‘a group’. In this case, you may need to talk with your pastor about merging with another group from church.
What particular challenges come with leading a very small group? One of the big challenges is coming to terms with your own pride and disappointment: you may feel discouraged or hurt that not many people have joined your group, and you can be tempted not to care about the ministry anymore. But this is obviously a mistake! Jesus chose to entrust at least some of his precious sheep to you, and your only response must be to love them, teach them and lead them in following him. You are here to serve Jesus and his people, not the other way round.
Another challenge is managing the group dynamics of a very small group: often they don’t have many (or any) talkative people, and so long periods of silence can be a feature. A rigid approach of asking a pre-written question and waiting for an answer just won’t work. A shortage of various points of view can also make stimulating discussion hard to generate. These challenges can be overcome, but a leader (and co-leader) can’t just replicate the leading style that worked with a large group.
A third challenge is the danger of the group loving the intimacy of a very small group so much that they don’t want to grow. This is a problem because it doesn’t fit with God’s desire and plan to keep bringing many people into his kingdom and church communities.
These are some of the challenges. But what are the opportunities? Thankfully, there are several. First of all, a very small group provides the opportunity to get to know each other quickly and deeply. There’s more time to hear each other’s stories about our lives and how we came to know Jesus. This intimacy can potentially lead to a high level of openness and accountability as we struggle to follow Jesus together.
Another advantage of smallness is that it allows you and your members to get more out of the study. This is especially the case when you adapt your leading style to the smaller group. You can cater more to people’s different learning styles and help people understand and apply the Bible more deeply than in a large group. For example, if someone really appreciates taking the time to read the passage slowly and think about it in silence for a while, you can certainly afford to do that. You can also go on more frequent and longer tangents arising from the passage or topic.
Smallness also (in theory) means the pastoral load on you as the leader is less than it would be in a large group. This means you can invest more time growing and discipling the individuals, or you could then take on other ministries around church.
Finally, you have the opportunity to grow the group! Very small groups have room to grow, so your group is in the perfect position to pray for growth and work for growth. This could start with evangelism—praying for each other’s friends and contacts and figuring out ways to meet them, invite them to things and explain the gospel. Growth can also happen as you pray for new members and make special effort to find and welcome anyone new at church. Any pastor would be thrilled to have a group come to him and ask about who’s new and how they could welcome them better!
So if you are leading a very small group, don’t be discouraged! Recognize the challenges, embrace the opportunities and, in God’s kindness, hopefully you will partner with him in growing his people and growing the group.