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The Risk of Small Groups

Lead Small

I’ve recently been reading through Lead Small, by Reggie Joiner and Tom Shefchunas. Lead Small is unique in that it is written for the small group leader. It walks the reader through 5 big ideas that every small group leader needs to know. I recommend it, and recommend the conversations that come from it with our small group leaders!

I believe that kids and students need relationships to grow spiritually, and I’ve worked hard everywhere I’ve ever served to create a system that breeds leaders leaning into kids through relationships. I could insert story after story after story here of how God has fully changed a students life through a small group leader. I sit in meetings every Monday morning, and listen to stories of small group wins pour in from every family ministry area of our church. I believe it works, and I believe it enough to prioritize it for all 3 of my kids (not to mention my own community group.)

But small groups do present one very big risk. This risk is oftentimes the very reason that churches don’t do small groups. In fact, I’ll be bold enough to say that 99 times out of 100 this is the ONE reason churches don’t do small groups for kids and students.

When it’s bad it’s really bad. When it’s bad it keeps people away, and that’s not the goal!  The weirdest part of all is that it can be bad even when there is a fantastic group happening right next door.  

Look at the numbers on this. With no small groups, I have to concentrate in ONE area. I have to make this one 60 or 90 minute event as influential as possible, and many out there do a great job at this. Sure, there are many facets to this one area, but down to it’s core it is ONE event in ONE moment with ONE big impact.

Now there are a  million  different ways to get kids and students into smaller groups (I’m speaking in very general terms), but when you commit to small groups you are taking that one impact opportunity and you are turning it into 10 or 20 or 30 different areas where things could go right or wrong.

In a way our greatest strength becomes our greatest weakness. Our 3rd grade boys group is totally hitting it out of the park, and the leader is way more than awesome…but our 8th grade girls group is struggling to get any momentum, with spotty attendance and no teenagers willing to invite anyone to this terrible experience. It’s a risk, and I can tell you from experience that the danger is always there. There will always be some frustrations and struggles, but the wins are more than worth it.

What do you think keeps churches and leaders from  committing  to a true small group experience for their kids and students?


Jonathan Cliff is married to his wife Starr and they together live out their days with two sons and a daughter. Jonathan serves as one of the Pastors at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tennessee; where he works with leaders throughout the city to help develop Christian community that leads to deep and meaningful spiritual friendships. His journey has been an adventurous one, having served in the local church for 15 years in family ministry developing leaders, building environments for kids and students to belong, and encouraging parents to take big spiritual steps with their families.


  1. Kaye · January 22, 2013

    Thanks for this post. I love the book, Lead Small. It is a really helpful book. But you’re so right about small groups. Using small groups means we no longer have control over the quality of each group. The best we can do is provide great resources, training and support, be thoughtful about who our small group leaders are, and lots of prayer.

    • Jonathan Cliff · January 24, 2013

      When moving to the SG format, it becomes a race to make your bad and good as close to each other as possible…there is no doubt.

      Thanks for the comment Kaye!