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4 Surprising Discoveries about Small Group Growth

Realizing that small groups make the most difference in a church’s quantitative and qualitative growth (Schwarz, Natural Church Development, p. 32), Dwight Marable and I have done extensive research to discover the key ingredients for small group health and growth. Statistical analysis of over 3000 small group leaders in more than 200 churches revealed these surprising results about small group leadership.

  1. Unseen behaviors make the most difference. The highest correlations to small group health and growth related to the prayer life of the leader. If you want a healthy, growing group you need to pray. So… Consistently take time with God. As you do, pray for your friends that need Jesus, your small group, and your small group members. Graph
  2. Preparing your heart is far more important than preparing your notes. We asked leaders how much time they spend preparing their small group lesson and how much time they spend praying for their meeting. Lesson prep showed zero correlation to small group growth. However, prayer for their meetings revealed an extremely strong correlation to small group growth! The lesson? Pray! Depend more on God than yourself. Preparing your heart and praying for your members and your meeting are far more important than preparing your notes. Try it! This week take less time preparing your lesson and more time praying and asking God to move in your meeting. I think you will immediately see a significant difference.
  3. Open groups experience deeper community and caring than closed groups. For over 40 years the small group movement has debated the value of “closing” groups so that members can develop deeper relationships with one another without the intrusion of new people. We probed this to see if “open” groups that are reaching out to others experience caring and community on the same level of closed groups. The results shocked us. Open group experience deeper community than closed groups! Come to think of it, the groups mentioned in New Testament passages like Acts 2:42-47 had high levels of both care and outreach! Care and outreach go together. So what should you do? Keep your group outward focused. Have members pray for their friends that need God, encouraging them to serve them, and invite them to special small group and church events.
  4. People want to go to their group not your group. This discovery was not as surprising to us as researchers but it surprises a lot of small group leaders. People do not want to go to your group, where you do and lead everything—hosting, snacks, worship, Bible discussion, ministry time, and fun events. Leaders that give away ministry have faster growing groups and groups that produce more new leaders and new groups. People want to go to a group where leaders are calling out their gifts and including them in ministry and leadership. The lesson for you and me? Work smarter not harder. It takes more effort this week to give ministry away but much less work a month from now if you are thoughtfully involving others. The wonderful thing about involving others in serving and leading is that your load lightens even while your ministry grows.

If you want to learn more about our discoveries—some which surprised us, some which are totally predictable, and all of which are practical. Check out our book, Small Groups, Big Impact. Sorry, thought a book plug was maybe appropriate here. 🙂

Which of these discoveries surprises you most? What thoughts, questions, or insights do you have on small group growth?


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