7 Things That Affect Your Small Group (More Than You Might Know)


I’m a little obsessed with small groups. I tried to be cute about it in this intro, but let’s be real: there’s no way to make being passionate about spiritual formation in Christian community “cute.” There is SO much power in community, especially a small group that’s rooted in a local church. If you want to grow as a Christian, you gotta be in a group committed to spiritual growth. 

But I digress!

This post is for those who are already meeting up with their buds in a small group. Maybe it’s going great, maybe it’s going less-than-great, but whatever case you’re in, there’s always room to take stock of how things are going. Especially if you’re in a leadership role, thinking about exactly the environment and preparation that goes into your small group will help set the stage for everyone to be comfortable and energized. A little prep work goes a long way when it comes to hospitality, and getting your group members in the right headspace can open up doors for God to do His best work. 

Read on for the 7 things that are affecting your small group more than you think they are:

1. Who Is There

How many times have you been so not in the mood to make it to small group? I’m totally guilty of bailing last minute on a group, saying to myself, “There are so many people there. They won’t miss me.”

But friend! They will! Well for one, they’ll miss your presence because you are special to them, I’m sure. But also any time a group has a different makeup of people and personalities, the group dynamic will shift, even just a little. If Mary and Nicole are best friends and Mary isn’t there one night, highly introverted Nicole might not share as deeply as should would if her emotional support were present. On the other hand, if Nicole isn’t there to temper Mary’s over-sharing tendencies, Mary could take over the whole conversation.

Everyone is valuable in a small group, and it’s important to notice who is or isn’t there every week. Your group dynamic depends on it.

2. Where You Are

Imagine your group is in the middle of prayer and your apartment door swings open to your roommate and her friends—vibe officially killed. Or you all decide to meet at the Starbucks down the road, but it’s super crowded and you’re all straining to hear one another.

The environment you create for your group matters more than you might think. Think of the environment as part of your preparation and framework-building for your small group.

Choose a place where you won’t be interrupted and gives everyone the safety to be as vulnerable as they need to be. People need to feel free to focus on the group discussion, not on whether or not the guy at the next table can hear their struggles.

3. Is There Food?

I will stand by this forever: You must always provide food. There is something spiritual and hospitable about having snacks provided. Never once has anyone been disappointed that there was food present at their small group. 

Make some popcorn, have hot chocolate ready, make it a potluck dinner—you need something for people to munch on. 

This does a couple of things. First, you remove the distraction of hunger that could impact your guests. Now they’re free to focus on the group. Second, it demonstrates that you prepared for them. You have put thought, effort, and care into the group before they even arrived. I think you’ll find that people are more willing to be open and vulnerable when they know you are caring for them, even in this little way.


4. How Long Does This Go For?

There are two strategies here, each equally valuable in my opinion. 

First, you have a set time and you stick to that time. Small group is on Wednesday nights from 6-8pm and that is that. This highly structured time frame prioritizes people’s schedules. We all have “the next thing” to get to, and it can be relieving for people to know exactly when small group will end. They can trust you to hold your word, and they can find freedom in the time that they’re with the group because they’re not concerned about when “the next thing” will happen.

Second, you have a set start time and a loose end time—always. Small group is on Wednesday nights at 6. We have dinner, we have discussion, and this is the only thing we have going on tonight. This looser structure prioritizes people’s stories. Sometimes we can’t predict what we or another group member will need that night. The Spirit moves in His own timing, and allowing space for that to happen can be extremely valuable. 

In both of these cases, the key is consistency. Always end at 8pm, or always make it clear that group might go later into the night. When people know what the expectations are, they can find freedom, rest, and courage in that safety.

The environment you create for your group matters more than you might think. Think of the environment as part of your preparation and framework-building for your small group.

5. Time of Day

I once had a small group in college meet at 4pm on Fridays after the last class of the day. Loved the girls in my group, hated that time slot. Everyone was so exhausted and so eager for the weekend to just start already. 

When you have your small group will contribute to how people feel about being there. Immediately after work on a Friday will probably get you some anxious and checked out people. On the other hand, a Monday 7 am group might often be missing members who just couldn’t get make it happen that morning. 

Check in with people about what works for both their schedules and their moods. I tend to like Wednesday or Thursday evening groups. After church on Sunday can be a great time to continue fellowshipping together.

NEXT: 20 conversation starters that aren’t “how was your week” to get your small group chatting

6. Who Leads?

What’s the leadership structure like? Is there a designated leader? Or are you all sharing the responsibility of question-asking and answering? Are there questions at all?

We can believe that having a structure for a group kills the community and creates obstacles for God to work. In my experience, having at least an idea about what each meeting will look like and who is responsible for what creates just enough structure for people to feel emotionally prepared but flexible enough to listen to how the Spirit is leading.

7. Are Phones Allowed?

I feel like such a downer with this one! But this is more a personal note to myself. I am so distracted by my phone. If it’s out and face up, I will be tapping the screen every 3 minutes to see if anything has happened (which it hasn’t). Early on in my small groups, I like to just make a rule that we keep our phones in our bags and commit to bringing real Bibles and journals. 

You definitely don’t have to ban phones, but keep an eye on those who are having a hard time focusing because of their phone. Retraining our minds to focus and pay attention is hard, but a worthwhile spiritual practice.

Now go forth! Lead your group with confidence! And stay tuned for more small group leadership content coming your way very (very!) soon.

Have you noticed these factors in your own small group? Tell me about them!

NEXT: 20 conversation starters that aren’t “how was your week” to get your small group chatting