Starting a small group for exploring faith and discipleship might seem like such a simple proposition at first. All you need to do is find some people, pick a topic, have a gathering place and meeting time…and repeat. However, if you’re anything like us, you’ve no doubt discovered that starting a small group is usually much more complicated than that, because…well, small groups consist of real people, with real lives, real schedules, and differing motivations for being part of the group.

Done well, a small group can be a highly effective way to navigate faith and discipleship together. However, poorly conceived small groups can become a drag on everyone’s weekly schedules, never living up to their potential or simply failing to get off the ground in the first place.

So if you’re thinking about starting a small group, keep reading, because we’ve assembled a handful of important considerations to keep in mind while starting your next small group. Our hope is this list of ideas will help you think through some of the most common pitfalls and how to avoid them as you go through the process of beginning your next small group.

How To Effectively Start A Small Group | Small Group Ministry | Women's Ministry | Church

1. Recruit Interested People For Your Small Group

In order for a small group to succeed, it has to consist of members that are actually interested in participating and growing their faith (or engaging in whatever task the small group is focused on). Without legitimately interested people, a small group will never flourish. 

This might seem like a very obvious factor for starting a small group, but many people will make commitments to a small group for reasons beyond having a real interest in participating. 

For example, someone might join a small group because they are friends with the organizer. Another might commit because they have a free spot in their schedule and feel like they don’t have a good reason to say no. Others might decide to join because it’s a chance to socialize, eat out, take advantage of provided babysitting, or any other number of factors that have nothing to do with a real interest in the group and its purpose.

This is why it’s so important that the people joining a group be truly interested and committed to the purpose of the group and want to grow and change along with similarly committed others. 

So how do you go about finding the right people to be part of a small group?

The first step in finding people is to consistently pray to God and ask Him to reveal people to you. Organizing people for your small group should be a spiritual practice. Although it can be tempting to simply take whoever you can get, there is really very little purpose in beginning a group with people that aren’t in it to grow in their faith.

Secondly, as God brings to mind people to invite to your small group, you should likewise extend the invitation to them to make their decision to join the group a prayer point. Specifically ask them to pray about the decision and if it’s right for them.

As you’re evaluating people to join your group, be cautious about overly busy people with a lot of commitments, or already part of other groups. You will want group members that won’t feel pulled in multiple directions or forced to make choices. People that are part of a wide number of affiliations often struggle with balancing their schedule. Effective small groups need commitments from members that don’t force them to choose, feel obligated or begrudging about attending.

2. Be Consistent With Your Small Group

How To Effectively Start A Small Group | Small Group Ministry | Women's Ministry | Church

Once you’ve established the people in your group, take care initially to establish meeting times and locations that are consistent, realistic and achievable. Constant changes and cancellations are fatiguing, confusing, and tend to signal disorganization or a lack of genuine interest. 

When your group has frequent changes in plans and schedules, its priority in the member’s mind tends to decrease. In order for the group to be effective, it needs to be reliable, because you want your members to feel like it is a rock in their schedule that they can depend on.

As you’re launching the group, create an extended schedule and ask members to provide input on how their own personal schedules might affect it. Planning ahead for cancellations and skipped weeks is far better than finding out a few days before a meeting that half of the group will be out because of a holiday. 

3. Be Realistic With Your Schedule For The Small Group

How To Effectively Start A Small Group | Small Group Ministry | Women's Ministry | Church

When you begin mapping out the schedule and plans for your group, take into consideration the schedule and needs of your group members. Being realistic about what is achievable success is key. 

Is it reasonable for your group members to meet once a week? Would a monthly meeting be more achievable? If your group is for recently retired folks, you’re going to have much more leeway in choosing time and frequency than you will have for working parents. 

For example, if you’re starting a “Young Mommy’s Group” for women with small children, planning to have the group meet every Monday night at 7pm is probably not very realistic. That time slot would mean your members would be missing dinner and bedtime routines one night a week, which won’t be sustainable in the long run. Switching the time of the group, such as to 4pm on a Sunday, or changing the frequency, like meeting only once a month at 7pm on Mondays, could be far more realistic. 

Take some time to think about the natural flow of your potential members’ lives and ask them what would work best. 

Frequency of meetings and when to meet are two factors that can either bolster a group’s effectiveness or be a constant battle. 

4. Touch Bases Regularly With Your Small Group

How To Effectively Start A Small Group | Small Group Ministry | Women's Ministry | Church

How do you plan to stay in touch with your group outside of meeting times? Good communication is critical to keeping your group motivated, informed, and excited about participating. 

Although there are tons of options, from text, to apps, to social media, probably the most consistent way to stay in connection with most groups is going to be email. As you begin your group, gather everyone’s email address and let them know that they will hear from you periodically.

Commit to emailing them once a week to share a bit of encouragement, along with any important announcements that they need to know (if you are meeting weekly.) If you are meeting once a month an email probably twice a month would be sufficient.

Here’s an example of what a weekly email might look like: (and p.s. it doesn’t have to be long)

Happy Tuesday! I can’t wait until we meet again on Sunday! It was great seeing everyone this past week. I wanted to share with you the following Bible verse and a few encouraging words. {Post Scripture Verse} I hope you have an amazing week where you feel God’s presence with you wherever you go. I am praying for you and our group. See you this Sunday at 5pm at Panera!  

A weekly email is an awesome way to help your members prioritize the group and see value in it. Keeping your weekly email brief and encouraging will help members to feel successful in keeping up with the emails and group.

5. Pick Good Material For Your Small Group

How To Effectively Start A Small Group | Small Group Ministry | Women's Ministry | Church

Finding good topics can always be a trying endeavor. Not all materials and resources are created equal or are good for every group. 

Groups can revolve around any number of materials such as:

  • Bible studies
  • Reflections on the past Sunday’s sermon
  • A Christian book or other literature
  • Curriculum specifically for small groups

Regardless of what route you take with materials, it is important that you, as the leader, preview the materials thoroughly beforehand. It’s demoralizing for any small group to purchase and get started with a resource, only to find out that it doesn’t fit the group’s interest or needs. 

Try to plan ahead with materials and create a schedule. For example, if you’re doing a small group that focuses on reading classic Christian theology texts, schedule a 

If you are having trouble finding resources, you can ask for advice from your pastor or church staff. 

6. Find A Reliable Meeting Space For Your Small Group

How To Effectively Start A Small Group | Small Group Ministry | Women's Ministry | Church

Piggybacking off the importance of consistency, be sure that your meeting space is reliable and can be easily used by everyone involved. The hot new coffee shop in town might seem like an awesome meetup spot, but will there always be enough tables available for everyone? Will you need to stand in line for several minutes beforehand to order beverages?

Likewise, meeting in homes can be a good option, but again, evaluate the consistency and ease of use for all involved. Is the host able to regularly host the group, or do they travel often? What are the contingency plans if the regular home is not available, or the host isn’t able to pull off the gathering? These are some of the issues to keep in mind while looking for a reliable meeting space.

A good meeting place works for all involved and doesn’t require a lot of preparation. Remember – the most important element of your group is the people, discussion, and topic, and the meeting place should help create consistency and foster the group.

7. Be Respectful Of Everyone’s Time

How To Effectively Start A Small Group | Small Group Ministry | Women's Ministry | Church

It’s a common occurrence in ministry for meetings to run over. On occasion, a meeting running long might be necessary and harmless. However, when meetings consistently run over in time, it is communicating that you do not value or respect people’s time. The people coming to your meeting have other responsibilities and commitments.

Try your best to stay committed to your allowed time for your meeting. Emphasize to everyone involved your commitment to timeliness, which will communicate respect and empathy toward each person’s unique circumstances. 

In addition, you should be very careful about the pacing of your group meetings. For example, if everyone commits to meet for an hour once a week to discuss a book, be sure to spend the vast majority of your time talking about the book, and try to minimize side-topics and other conversation. Although it is important to foster community and friendship, aimless discussion and spending large chunks of the meeting time off-topic will make the group feel disorganized and unfruitful. Try to establish patterns of spending the agreed-upon time talking about the group’s topic, and relegate small topic and “catching up” to before and after the group meeting time.

Well there we have it – just a handful of thoughts to keep in mind while organizing and starting your small group. Pitfalls can be avoided through intentionality and making an effort to orient the group toward the needs and lives of those participating. Placing intentionality is a key factor toward creating a group that is invigorating and engaging, and not a commitment burden to the people involved.

If you’d like more resources for growing and shaping your ministry – sign up for our special email list for leaders! You’ll get special content relevant to your ministry sent directly to your email inbox every week.

How To Effectively Start A Small Group | Small Group Ministry | Women's Ministry | Church
Alexis and Aaron Waid
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