Keeping Your Small Groups Real: How To Foster Unity and Spiritual Intimacy

With minor changes, this email below is what I sent to the three pastors in my church. This church is growing in numbers and has a great zeal for the Lord. But they have a serious weak spot which the devil is sure to exploit. As the church grows they will need strong small groups. These can’t remain as mere social clubs with a dash of Scripture. They must be spiritually ready to kill anything that destroys a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus. Small group leaders must model spiritual unity and show the group members what it means to be truly authentic. This includes following what the Scriptures say on praise, prayer and how to resolve conflicts.


Pastors A, S and M,

I’ve been at the church since late February 2023, and I joined a men’s group a month later. I’m very impressed with how fast the church is growing in numbers. But now more than ever, these small groups need guidance to help them mature. What I say now is based on my personal experience with the men’s group. But from what I see around me, I believe this applies to the other small groups as well.

Small groups must grow in depth as well as in size. They’ve got to be trained to deal with the rough stuff such as conflicts, different personalities, and time management. They should also be equipped to break down spiritual barriers to community. In my view, this all needs to be bathed in prayer and consensus, not run like a secular business.

Sadly, I do not believe the men’s group has had this training. And I doubt the other groups have either. The men’s group seems very much aligned with the church’s 10 year plan. There’s a huge rush to save people and fill the pews, which is good. But we’re lackadaisical on spiritual growth in community, which is bad.

God certainly is at work in ___________. The devil knows a threat when he sees it. So he is sure to attack the weakest link. Given what I’ve seen, the small groups are an easy target.

In my 10 months here, I have found that most of the men don’t know how to spiritually strengthen themselves in community. And so it’s not surprising that no one is prepared to deal with even mild conflict. And conflict will continue to grow as the small groups and the church grows. This is inevitable and it should be on the radar. It’s a problem already.

Our church is much like an advancing army that fearlessly storms all the beaches. We take a lot of ground and shout great cries of victory. But storming the beach is not the same as keeping the land. I fear that victory here will be short lived, because the army has no spiritual supply chain to sustain it.

Our troops need food, water and daily nourishment. Otherwise, they will be hit with famine, plague, infighting and dissension. And yes, desertion too. At that point, the victory turns into defeat and the enemy can take back all the ground that was lost to him.

Please don’t let this be our 10 year story.

It’s already happening in the small groups. At least with one. And maybe two as I don’t know how the other men’s group ended. Or why no other men’s group has started. When the other men’s group fizzled, where did they go? I suspect they were facing similar issues and did not have the cohesion to keep together.

I implore you to take this to Jesus in prayer. I know the church has a need for people to lead small groups. But we can’t just fill it with warm bodies and hope they’ll do alright. We must Equip them. And like the early church apostles did with their own small groups, we must circle back to check how each group is doing. There needs to be real oversight and accountability. Especially when the groups are filled with young believers.

Below are some thoughts on what can be helpful to small group leaders.

An EQUIP Class: How To Handle Issues In Small Groups (using the men’s group as an example)

Dealing with conflict. (Matt: 18:15, not letting the sun go down on your anger, dealing with strife between group members…) Conflict divides and destroys unity. So it must be dealt with quickly and according to Scripture. It can’t sit for weeks where no one discusses what happened. You can ask ___________ or __________how the men’s group is currently handling conflicts. But my hope is that future groups will be trained to do it better. (for training, perhaps use roll playing on conflicts and praying together to resolve such. Have each person model the prayers for group unity based on various different types of conflicts likely to occur.)

Keeping pre group meeting small talk to 10-15 minutes max. Our group has up to 40 plus minutes of small talk and it’s often hard to get to the lesson. Leaders need to know how to gently keep things on track. But not make it so rigid that it stifles the work of the Holy Spirit. (more role playing?)

During the meeting, encourage each person to share praises of how God has come through this week in their life. In my view, this should be separate from any prayer requests. Otherwise (as in the men’s group), people just ask for prayer and forget to praise Him. This “me centeredness” slows down spiritual growth. Scripture says the joy of the Lord is our strength. And God inhabits the praises of His people. Praising Him builds up our faith in His goodness. It’s not something to be put in the background to the teaching. Praising the Lord instills gratitude, alleviates anxiety, builds faith and encourages unity. Jesus always remains the focus. Not the small talk, not their needs and not the lesson.

Encourage prayer requests but discourage the worldly, secular advice giving. This often occurs in the men’s group when someone tells a long story in connection to a prayer request. The men (even me at times) want to give loads of expert advice. This soon degenerates into an Oprah-fest of men venting their opinions and frustrations. The focus becomes ego, and we start relying on our own feeble power instead of God’s power (More prayer+less advice=stronger unity).

Small Group Decision Making: Does the leader make a unilateral decision or does the leader consult and pray with the core members? How should decisions be made in small groups?
In the men’s group, decisions tend to be made without consulting core members. Often, these are knee jerk responses for efficiency that were never prayed over. (examples: whether to shorten the group by 30 minutes…whether to save time by stopping people from making spontaneous prayer requests but to have them email these instead, whether to ignore addressing the persistent 40 plus minutes of small talk which could be the real issue…)

As far as I can tell, none of this was discussed with the core members or put to prayer with them. It was simply decided by fiat while we were all together at a sports bar. So how does this encourage us to be unified in the Lord? What’s the difference between how to run a small group versus a small business? How can these small groups be run so that in every thing they do, they give God the glory?

Encourage group members throughout the week to pray over the phone with each other (as opposed to texting each other). Few in my group call on each other when spiritually attacked. Mostly it’s just text exchanges with no real intimacy. (things they heard at a sermon, an event they want to go to…) Meanwhile, it turns out other members in addition to me, were struggling with depression, but for some reason, they never reached out for immediate prayer to those in the group! Why is that? Could it be that after all this time together, the group sees itself more as a men’s club rather than a church body? What can we do to change that? More hunting and fishing together is not the answer. They do this already with their secular friends. How are these small groups being motivated to trust Jesus in community? What are we doing to make them more like the early home churches of the 1st century?

Small Group Support: Encourage small group leaders to reach out to a designated Jesus filled person with Godly wisdom and experience. (Someone who has managed home groups before.) Designate oversight on these groups. For example, a person who will check up on the groups to see where each group is spiritually succeeding.

They can also ask the group leader and core members where they seem to be falling down. e.g. what challenges they face. Develop questions that each small group leader can reflect upon and pray on with the group. Questions that expose the barriers that keep us from being authentic with God, and with each other. Questions which reveal whether the group is spiritually healthy and growing. (Or just going through the motions) All of this should be bathed in prayer with the small group leaders and core members praying as well.

This is not an attack against the church by any means. These are just the insights I’ve observed over the last 10 months. I want everyone to win here. The church can grow in numbers. But it won’t matter much if in a few years it just falls apart.

Thank you all for listening.


Other Resources for Small Groups

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