As someone who has moved several times in my married life, I’ve had the opportunity to try out many churches before making a final choice. And after choosing a church, a small group.

Even though my wife and I typically chose large churches, we didn’t have many options when choosing a small group. But we did investigate enough of them to have a few opinions about what some did wrong.

We are all broken and imperfect. Someone entering a small group for the first time will hopefully be aware of that and offer a little grace. But here are some behaviors that rubbed us the wrong way that perhaps you can coach your group to avoid.

"Obviously you can’t change the behavior of the people in your small group. But perhaps you can occasionally mention to your members (especially when guests are present) that one of the goals of discipleship is to become more like Christ."

Darren Wiedman

1. Cliques

Even if you don’t have cliques in your group, the presence of close friendships can appear to be cliquish. In fact, the entire group can. And I get it. If you’ve been sharing your life with particular members of your group for a long time, you will have a close bond, close enough to even embrace each other when you meet. Within those arms, it feels like a hug. Outside the arms, it can feel like a barrier to entry. And often, old friends don’t want to take the time and energy to cultivate new friendships. The status quo is a difficult thing to change.

We did encounter groups that appeared to be welcoming. Big smiles and friendly handshakes (pre-Covid), but the status quo soon took over. Many variables (an inside joke, a sideways glance, body language) all combined to confirm that we were outsiders.

This obstacle can be averted somewhat if your group is regularly multiplying or your church is forming new groups on a regular basis. New visitors then have the opportunity to join a group where those close relationships are not yet established.

2. Hypocrisy

This is an especially dangerous practice if you’re welcoming new Christians to your group. They are probably expecting Christians to behave like Christ. We all know how rare that can be. In fact, that’s a common reason people cite for leaving a church: “It’s full of hypocrites.”

Obviously you can’t change the behavior of the people in your small group. But perhaps you can occasionally mention to your members (especially when guests are present) that one of the goals of discipleship is to become more like Christ. And even though you’re not there yet, it should be a priority for your group. This not only focuses your members, it helps to reassure the guests that while you’re not perfect, you are working on it.

3. You Know Who

I was on a plane trip with a group of friends once, and before the four-hour flight was over, one particular woman had made an impression on all of us. You just had to mention the word “her” and anyone on the flight instantly knew who you were talking about.

Do you have someone like this in your group? That person who stands out, and not in a good way? In one especially quiet small group that we visited, “him” was a middle-aged man who apparently wasn’t comfortable with silence. So he was the first to answer every question and share his biblical knowledge, which wasn’t as rock solid as I think he thought. Actually, I liked this guy. The more he talked, the less I had to. But you see what I’m getting at. It seems pretty common that a group will have someone who is too ___________. Too loud. Too coarse. Too rude. Too angry. Too preachy. Too annoying. Even too friendly. Of course, that’s what occurs when you get a bunch of humans together. Humanity happens.

If you have a “him” or “her,” I would recommend you do something to make them aware of the issue. This requires tact and nuance that I don’t have the space or expertise to write about. But I’m sure someone has. I just wanted to make you aware that if you think it’s a problem, it probably is. Even if your regulars have learned to live with it, your guests won’t feel the same obligation.

4. Nothing in Particular

Not every group is for everyone, and that's okay. I’m an introvert, so I don’t feel comfortable around other people. My wife’s probably a little shyer than I am. So us not being excited about your group may have nothing to do with your group. It’s our perception of how your group will be.

I think the only way to address this is to ask your pastor to occasionally reassure newcomers from the pulpit that when they visit a group for the first time, they won’t be called on to pray, or to tell their life stories, or even to talk. That may give us enough courage to at least visit your group.

If you’re having trouble keeping people in your group or having visitors never come back, you may want to invite a friend who goes to a different church. Have him or her secretly evaluate their experience. Ask them to identify red flags or blind spots that you may be missing. Who knows, maybe they’ll enjoy the experience so much, they’ll join your group.

Darren Wiedman is a copywriter for Lifeway’s Adults Ministry team who relies heavily on God’s grace and Jesus’s atoning work on the cross. You might be relieved to know that he does not write any Bible study content, only ad copy and the occasional blog article (and this bio).