I love talking, attending, creating, teaching, starting small groups. Below are some thoughts that I've picked up from those doing successful small group ministry and thoughts I've developed over the years in leading various small groups in multiple locations.
I pray these will be some helpful ideas as you gear up, start up or vamp up your small group ministry.
1.) Decide what type of small group church you are.
There are basically three types of churches with small groups: A church "with" small groups, a church "of" small groups and the church "is" small groups.
Let me interject that none of these are a "right" or "wrong" way to do small groups, however knowing what type of small group church you are will decide the amount of involvement you are able to sustain.
2.) Clarify what is a "win" for your small group.
Many times you will hear this in the vision statement of the small group or even the mission statement of the church. If not there then you'll probably hear it whenever the pastor is promoting small groups in the church. My point is if you don't spend time every Sunday morning and in every small group gathering reminding or "clarifying" what a win is for at least five years for your small group ministry, then frustration will follow.
I'll give you the most common that I know of with two different churches experiencing right now.
One churches small group leader, who is also an Elder in the church, is leading a small group of 25-30 (which is not a small group) and is having trouble getting anyone to break away to create two groups from that one. Everyone loves their group, everyone enjoys the fellowship and atmosphere. Hey, that's good! Nothing wrong, other than the fact the group has a bottle neck and is not producing anymore small groups.
Another church is dealing with the same issue, in fact they are desperately trying to train new leaders in hopes of being able to take a few out of each group to relieve groups that more than 20 in them.
So what's the problem?
Many times no one knows what a win is or they have the wrong win in mind.
For example, when I ask "what are the goals for your small group?" I'll get answers like, "to disciple, fellowship, accountability, assimilate into the church, prayer, bible study, etc." Those are all great answers but many times we only think about the goals and we never set a win. Can I be so honest to say, that the above list of things in a small group, at least healthy ones, are doing those already! You typically don't have to remind people to fellowship at a home fellowship. Or really pray during prayer time. My point is, where do we go? What's the end result? If having large small groups is the goal, then the above examples are not really issues. If it's developing more small groups, then there seems to be a "connect the dot to the win" problem.
I know what you're thinking, "but our people don't want to divide" or "why ask them to break up the very much needed fellowship we've asked them to join?"
Those are understandable examples but not the standard. From day one of starting a small group ministry in your church if you promoted, "Our goal as a small group is to make more small groups" then it defines what a win is. When a group multiplies into two, then people have a reason to celebrate. It's not a "have to" issue it's a want to step. But if it's not clarified in the small group it will create confusion and even frustration with the attenders because when you start breaking groups up, they will react.
3) Determine group size before it becomes a size issue.
If you clarify the win then knowing a group size becomes easy to determine.
Let me say this regarding the above; notice I never said, "when it comes time to divide a small group..." Lingo is very important, it's why I speak "multiply." It fits with a grow more groups vision. Personally I've found that once a small group reaches around 3-4 couples it's time to start thinking and training another leader. It's key that when more members start joining the group that they connect with the leaders in training and not the current small group leaders. When group and when the group reaches 8-9 couples, time to launch that new group and celebrate the win.
It's a rule, the bigger the group the fewer people talk. I was in a small group where there were about 8 people in the group and almost everyone spoke up and contributed in the discussion topic. I was in another small group where there was 25 or more and only about 5 people engaged.
That group of 25 can easily become two groups of 12 and no one would be upset due to being "torn away from relationships" because not everyone knows everyone on that deep of a level. Now for both of those groups to grow and then become 4 groups of 8, will take some work. But can be done with a clear focus of what type of church they are and what a win is.