4 Reasons Small Groups Fail

Warning Signs


Small groups don't fail overnight. Slowly but surely they get more and more comfortable, and before long they've run out of steam. In a moment you'll hear Rick Howerton encourage small groups to stay on track in their time together. But first, watch this funny illustration about what could happen if they don't follow his advice.



It's a slippery slope! Before long, a "slow go" small group can become a "no go" small group. So what are the warning signs? Listen as Rick Howerton, a leading consultant in small group ministry, shares four reasons small groups fail. Rick currently serves as Small Group and Discipleship Specialist at LifeWay Church Resources and is author of A Different Kind of Tribe, Destination Community, and Small Group Life Ministry Manual.



Rick says that small groups fail for one or more of these reasons:
  • They don't have a leader who can move the group toward a common vision.
  • They ignore having a written covenant.
  • They don't really have discussion about the Bible; they just have discussion.
  • They don't pray.


Leadership ensures that a small group arrives somewhere. Leaders see God's vision for the group, help people move toward that vision, and utilize members' spiritual gifts along the way. 

Do your current small groups have adequate leadership? In what ways have you seen your leaders delegate authority to members of their groups and empower them for disciple making?
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Rick admits that written group covenants can be controversial. Why do you think that is?
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Rick names several benefits to having a written covenant as part of your small group plan, all of which create healthy boundaries for groups. Examples of things that might be in a written covenant are:
  • One person can't do all of the talking; everyone is involved in the conversation.
  • We will show up to keep consistency in the dynamic and personality of our group.
  • Everything shared will be kept confidential.

Does your small group have a written covenant? If so, what kinds of things are in it? If not, what value do you see in having a covenant? What things do you think would be helpful to include in your group's covenant, should you choose to write one?
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Have you ever been part of a group that was more interested in discussing their own thoughts than discussing the Bible? How did that impact the group?
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Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Scripture is clear that discipleship should center on Christ's teachings, not personal opinion. What are some ways you can value your group's opinions while still keeping Christ central? Is there a way to highlight Matthew 28:19-20 in your group's time together? What might that look like?
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Rick says that prayer connects a community of people with a Holy God. Prayer in small groups is more than sharing prayer requests; it's "crying out to God on one another's behalf because we love each other so much and believe that God has the power and is willing to be at work."  

Does your group ever experience prayer the way Rick describes it? If so, what difference does it make? If not, how might this kind of prayer revive your small group and open your eyes to God's glory in a new way?
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Take a minute to read James 5:13–16 and then spend some time praying for your small group. Create a picture in your mind of what a covenanted, prayerful small group would look like based on these verses and then memorize the last part of verse 16: "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."