3 Small Group Barriers and How to Break Them

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As small group point people, we aim to help as many people experience authentic community as possible. Often, this means limiting or removing the barriers that keep people from joining a group. Let’s take a look at three common small group barriers and some ways to overcome them. 

#1. Stranger Danger

During my first small group promotional weekend service, I had a conversation I’ll never forget. A first-time guest asked me what a small group was. Shortly after I began describing our groups, their face turned from curiosity to shock. “You mean you are sending me to a stranger’s house to talk about God with other strangers?” Growing up in church culture, I find it completely normal to get invited to someone’s house for a group or a meal. We must remember this is not nearly as common outside of church culture. So, what can we do to help people feel comfortable joining a small group when they do not know anyone yet?

  • Provide some on-site group options. Most of us would agree that the ideal is for groups to meet in homes rather than classrooms or conference rooms within a church building. However, offering some short-term group experiences on campus can help to warm people up to the idea of joining a group, while also helping them meet some people they could possibly start a group with. Start by trying a four or six-week marriage or parenting group, or have an onsite group experience following a message series.
  • Wherever/However you’re promoting, have group leaders involved. Your group leaders are your best promoters, as they know all the details for their group and have the ability to give a personal invitation. Whether you are promoting in your lobby, on stage, at an event, or online, make sure your group leaders are a part of it. Being able to put faces to names and removing the mystery can make all the difference. 

#2. Life Sentence

All ministries struggle with the misconception that once you are in, you cannot get out. This is especially true in small groups, where the goal is to develop authentic relationships. In a seasonal model, with built in seasons and off-seasons, there are natural on-ramps and off-ramps for people to check out other groups or take a season off. So, what can we do in ongoing or year ‘round models to alleviate this concern of a life-long commitment?

  • Eliminate perpetually closed groups.There are going to be seasons where groups really should be closed. Perhaps their meeting space is at capacity or there are some group members experiencing difficult or sensitive circumstances. There are a number of good reasons to be closed. However, it is unhealthy for a group to be perpetually, or always closed. This puts unnecessary pressure on the group to stay together and keeps others from joining who may be a great fit. By encouraging groups to be open, you will normalize the idea that people can move from one group to another or take a season off without being a detriment to their group. 
  • Try a campaign or alignment series. Is there an upcoming message series that you would love for your groups to be talking about? Consider encouraging all of your groups to discuss the messages for one series. This gives you and your leaders the opportunity to invite those who are not in a group to try one out while you are going through that specific series. 

#3. Schedule Overload

Possibly the most common barrier for people joining small groups is the idea that they just don’t have enough time. This barrier is difficult to limit or remove, because there is very little we can do as far as strategy or logistics. All we can do is try and help people re-evaluate their schedule.

  • “It sounds like you can, but you are choosing other things.” This has become my common response when people say they cannot fit a small group into their schedule and proceed to tell me the things that are currently filling schedule. Gently reminding people they own their schedule rather than the other way around can shift their thinking on what is possible.
  • It is possible they may just need to start a group.There is no way we can work around everyone’s scheduling needs. However, it is possible they could provide their own solution. Whenever someone tells me about their incredibly limited schedule and desire to be a part of a group, I ask them to consider starting one. 

BONUS: Another significant small group barrier is childcare. For some great strategies, see Derek Olson’s last article titled “7 Child Care Solutions for Small Groups”. 

Also, check out Chapter 4 of Leading Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen for more on small group barriers. 

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