I’d like to share a secret just between us. Is that all right? Stop reading if the answer is no. Hold on to your coffee and read on if you answered yes. Here it is: I failed at starting a small group. Since I’m sharing, I may as well tell the whole truth. Several small groups met their demise under my leadership. No time for all the details—the word count here is limited. Besides, letting your imagination generate all the ways Small Group Failure, Act I: Scenes from Brenda Croston’s Leadership Life tumbled, rolled, and flatlined is much more fun. You imagine that—preferably in Broadway musical style—and I’ll share the lessons learned. Maybe one or two of them will springboard your small group beginnings. My dearly departed Momma would say, “Take what’s yours, but don’t throw the rest away. Put the unused lessons on the shelf. You might need them later.”
Lesson One: Start a new small group without fear of failure. How do you do that? Fearlessness begins with knowing. Know that failing is a part of the process. Instead of worrying about failure, use that energy to focus on why a potential small group is necessary and who will benefit from its existence.
Lesson Two: Start a new small group with the end in mind. Define what you believe a small group is. That term is typically used in reference to discipleship. It, however, can be broadened. Ask what the overall objective/goal/mission is of the potential group. This is where you will find your small group definition and direction.
Lesson Three: Start a new small group with a clear time frame. Will it be ongoing, seasonal, or one and done? The time frame may change once the group establishes a clear rhythm and space among existing ministries. That’s normal. Be flexible.
Lesson Four: Start a new small group with help. There is a reason why the apostle Paul likened Christians to a body. Like it, the giftings within our local church are designed to connect. Therefore, ask God to identify women who share your passion for the potential group but who have different gifts. Enlist their help to make the new group complete. I won’t tell you how I know, but trying to establish anything for the kingdom of God as a solo act will end in more than failure. Something much worse happens—fragmentation. The jagged edges of working alone in the body of Christ cuts and sometimes mortally wounds the women you are so eager to serve.
Lesson Five: Start a new small group with permission. Receive direction from God first, your pastoral and/or Christian education director second, and potential members last. The latter two oftentimes serve as confirmation of the first. What do I mean? Sometimes we feel strongly that God is leading us in one direction or another. So, we jump in and invest energy, effort, and emotion only to have the pastor, leadership team, and/or church members decline the proposal. That more than likely means God might have told you to do something, but that thing you thought was the something isn’t what He had in mind. (Don’t shoot me. I am just the messenger!)
Lesson Six: Start a new small group as an expert. I am pretty sure many of you cringed at the idea of you being the expert. Others thought, Yeah! I’m a boss. Apply Romans 12:3 to whichever side of the coin you fall on. “For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly . . .” The Greek word used for sensibly is sophroneo. Translated: think of yourself realistically as it pertains to your limitations. Think soberly about your ability to launch this ministry.1 If God called you to do it, He intends to use the gifts He gave you to accomplish the task. Confidently pursue the ministry launch with lesson four in mind. But also keep in mind that you worship in this church with those people. You know them. You know the cadence of the calendar, the fabric of the church community, and the member temperament. You are the expert. I can’t tell you how to start a new group in your context because I am not there. Say this with me—and as many times as you need to believe it—“I am the expert in my context.” Go ahead, look in the mirror and say it. I have no intention to end this blog with step-by-step instructions on starting a new group. I don’t need to. You are the expert! Just open your heart, ears, and eyes to what God is showing you.
Lesson Seven: Start a new small group small. Keep it simple, sister. Learning, bonding, and trusting are best when the numbers are small—six to ten members. That is not to say the new small group ministry is limited to that number. The overarching ministry can have as many members as God supplies. Just make sure to create little communities within the big community. Bring the whole group together for fellowship, but when the time for discipling, learning, and growing happens, keep it small.
Dear sister, whatever God has called you to do, He has provided resources and provision to bring it to fruition. Just say yes!
Brenda M. Croston is the Women’s Ministry Leader at Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church, in Nashville, TN, and CEO of Simple Truth Publishing. She is a former public school teacher who has a passion to educate women and teens through written expression and conferences. Brenda is married to Mark. They have a blended family of four children and two beautiful granddaughters. Follow her on Facebook or Instagram @brendacroston.
1. Strong’s G4993, Blue Letter Bible, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g4993/kjv/tr/0-1/.