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  • Writer's pictureCaleb Nel


Small groups of Christians gathering around Jesus and His word are the life-blood of any church. The reason for this is because Sunday gatherings (a.k.a - large gatherings of people) can only go so deep and achieve so much. There is a limit to which you can encourage, support, love, challenge, ‘do-life-with’, and grow each other on a Sunday. Instead discipleship and community is most effectively achieved with smaller groups of people (2-20 people). Like my friend Brad Anderson used to say, “big things happen in small groups”.

If a church has no ‘life-on-life’ expression of discipleship and community (a.k.a – smaller groups of Christians gathering regularly), it runs the risk of growing a very ‘shallow’ faith community (both relationally and from a discipleship perspective). So if you are leading or attending a small group, you are giving yourself to a critical part of the church’s growth.

As you lead or attend a small group, here are 9 targets to aim for to make your group even more successful:

  1. Engagement & Participation: Don’t do all the talking, instead make sure every person gets to talk/contribute. Successful groups are when the leader does the least talking and the conversation moves freely from person to person. No one should leave small group without saying a word. So make it your goal to ensure everyone engages and participates.

  2. Vulnerability & Openness: Vulnerability opens the door for real relationships to form – this must be modelled first by the leaders. Small group is a space for everyone to remind each other that, 1) no one is perfect, and 2) life is messy. Embrace it.

  3. Relationships & Community: Not everyone in a small group will be best friends with each other, but to only see each when you are officially meeting as a group would be missing a big part of the power of small groups. Small groups are supposed to facilitate the forming of life-giving Christian friendships (disclaimer: this requires effort).

  4. Pastoring & Shepherding: Small group leaders are like shepherds of a small group of sheep. They care for them, love them, guide them, protect them, are present in their lives, and care for their wounds. When it comes to caring for & loving people, Small group leaders (under-shepherds) are to follow the example set by our Great Shepherd (Psalm 23).

  5. Gospel Centered: The good news of Jesus and what he has achieved for us on the cross is the medicine we all need for life every day. Jesus must be the hero of every small group gathering.

  6. Bible Centered: Small groups can often become centers for theological debates and sharing our opinions on hot topics. Instead of allowing opinion to reign, come back to the Bible. As with Jesus, a small groups ‘food’ is God’s word – so don’t starve the group otherwise they may die (spiritually).

  7. Active Prayer: Prayer is a declaration of the truth that God has all the power and we have none of it! So take every opportunity to pray together as a group. Pray for individuals who need it. Pray for individuals who don’t think they need it. Pray for the city. Pray for the church. Don’t leave small group without praying because prayer is the ‘greater work’ the church is called to (Oswald Chambers).

  8. Evangelism & Mission: Be especially hospitable to visitors and don’t assume they believe what everyone in the group believes (be sensitive to their faith journey). Find ways to make visitors feel special without singling them out. In addition to being “internally” hospitable, also engage “externally”. In other words – go hang out together in the “world” (bars, restaurants, concerts, clubs, etc.). Help your group to be outward focused, reminding them that they have a critical mission.

  9. God’s Presence: Find opportunities to help your group experience God’s presence in tangible ways. Allow space for the Holy Spirit to minister to individuals (worship music, prayer, and silence can often assist with this). Lead your group in experiencing the greatest gift the gospel gives us – reconciliation with God (a.k.a – being in His presence).

At the end of a small group gathering, you should have hopefully hit 4 of these targets (it’s often not possible to hit them all in one go). But no matter what, always, always hit no. 5 because it is the gospel that both saves and sanctifies us as followers of Jesus.


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